NMU cross-country hopes to outrun GLIAC

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Northern’s women’s cross country team started off their rebuilding season this week after failing to make the national championship last year for the first time since 2000.

The women’s cross country team’s first race is Friday Sept. 7 at the Lake Superior State University tournament this is the first race at the college level for many runners.

The Wildcats lost five of their starting seven runners to graduation last year, including Great Lakes All-Region runner Kelly Ahern.

“Losing so many great runners is tough,” said head coach Jenny Ryan. “However, the returning upperclassmen are much faster than last year and the incoming freshmen are strong.”

NMU had a larger than usual recruiting class, compared to the last four years, with nine freshman runners, making 45 percent of the team freshmen, some of these freshmen should have immediate impact, said Ryan.

Northern was not the only school to have a high percentage of incoming freshmen. Three GLIAC rivals have teams that have a higher concentration of freshmen then NMU’s percent Hillsdale with 50 percent, Ashland with 56 percent, and Lake Superior State with 66 percent, according to GLIAC rosters.

Another change being made to the team this year is new head coach Jenny Ryan who moved up from assistant coach following Sten Fjeldheim’s decision to step down as head coach to focus more on the nordic skiing team. Fjeldheim will remain with the team as an assistant coach.

During Fjeldheim’s career at NMU he led the team to six NCAA D-II National Championship competitions, with a best finish of fourth overall in 2002. Fjeldheim also coached ten All-Americans and has two Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) championships.

This change will open the door for former assistant coach Ryan to take over as head coach after seven years as an assistant.

“I feel very comfortable turning the reins over to Jenny,” said Fjeldheim.

But even with the obstacles in the way of the Wildcat Women, the morale is still high.

“We are all excited to get the season underway because it is all new,” said freshman Kirsten Hoklas.

The team has been running all summer long to help their cause this season. The team used an electronic tracking system through emails to stay in contact and to log their runs.

The team used a spreadsheet to log times and record any personal comments on how they felt during the run, said Ryan.

“It will help the coaches out in the future to show growth in the runners and what works and what doesn’t,” she added.

The 2007 season has meets at the Midwest Open in Kenosha, Wis. and the Roy Griak Invitational in St. Paul, Minn.. The Wildcats have one home meet this season at the Wildcat Open on October 12th.

“We really appreciate the Northern fans at our meets,” said freshman Nicole Bougher. “It really helps us to run harder when we know we’re running for our school and our fans.”

The post season begins on October 20th with the GLIAC Championships at Erie, Penn. The meet is being co-hosted by Gannon University and Mercyhurst. Grand Valley is the preseason favorite, being ranked fourth nationally in D-II. The other ranked GLIAC team is Findlay, who is ranked 19th.

Northern is not ranked nationally, but ranked in sixth in the Great Lakes Region. Regionals will be held at Edwardsville, Illinois on November 3rd. The Wildcats need to finish in fourth place or better to advance to the NCAA National Championships on November 17th. According to the preseason rankings by the US Cross Country Coaches Association, the Wildcats will have to beat one of the deepest teams in Great Lakes Valley Conference in Southern Indiana and the Greyhounds from the University of Indianapolis.