Cross country finishes season strong

Brice Burge

The Northern Michigan University cross country running team crossed its final finish line of the season on Saturday, Nov. 20 at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Louisville, Ky. The team finished 15th and scored 414 points in a meet dominated by the GLIAC schools.

“The girls ran some of their best times of the year, but it’s such a strong regional,” said head coach Jenny Ryan. “We were happy, but not ecstatic with how we finished. We still beat some respectable teams.”

The Wildcats’ top three runners finished in a 12-second span of 12 straight GLIAC runners as junior Nora Kiilunen grabbed the 73rd position at 23:41.39.   A Northwood Timberwolf, an Ashland Eagle and two Michigan Tech Huskies finished in the six-second difference between Kiilunen and senior Kristen Schulz, as she finished in the 78th position at 23:47.44. Three more GLIAC foes ended the race before sophomore Marie Helen Soderman edged out a SVSU runner for the 82nd spot at 23:50.81.

A Wisconsin-Parkside freshman broke the long string of GLIAC harriers, as she beat out NMU’s fourth runner, sophomore Rita Woitas by 0.63 seconds for the 84th spot. The final scoring Wildcat was sophomore Olivia Juntila who came across the line at 24:10.68. Juntila finished 97th, but scored 96 points as she was beat by a Kentucky Wesleyan runner. The Panthers did not have a complete team, so their finishes did not factor into the team scores.

“The team ran well and we have improved a lot from our last meet to be closer to our goals,” Kiilunen said.

Also competing for Northern were freshman Mandy Dye and senior Christina Turman. Dye finished in 107th with a time of 24:20.95 for 106 points and Turman finished in 110th with a time of 24:29.56 for 109 points. As only the points of the top five runners for each team count to that team’s score, the sixth and seventh runners do serve a purpose. In case of a tie, the sixth runner of the two tied teams determines the winner. The seventh runner is an extra runner that can move up the depth chart if a faster teammate cannot finish the race. Another advantage of having the sixth and seventh racers means that a team can use its depth to raise other teams’ scores. This rewards team’s ability to run as a unit and can cause big separation in scores, like the 53-point spread between first place Grand Valley and second place Ferris State, as the Lakers got all seven of their runners across the line before the third runner finished for the Bulldogs.

Seven of the 23 teams at the meet did not have the maximum amount of runners on the course, with each team dealing with different circumstances. Lake State only sent five racers because of travel costs and Kentucky Wesleyan only had five runners on the team when one of its athletes was injured during the race.

The Wildcats showed they had the depth of a contending team, but was lacking the other main component of a successful team: a front-pack runner. Despite the good times compared to this season’s standards, only Kiilunen’s 73rd place finished in the top half of the 150 total runners. Five teams, GVSU, FSU, Hillsdale, Wayne State and Bellarmine, had their entire seven-racer roster finish the race before Kiilunen completed the course, and eighteen of the 23 teams competing had their first runner cross the line before the top ’Cat. This was a big factor in the team standings as twelfth-place Findlay, thirteenth-place Lewis and fourteenth-place Northern Kentucky all had two runners in the top 50.

“It’s definitely hurt us overall the last couple seasons,” Ryan said. “There were a couple runners this year that I thought could have been a front-pack runner, but that’s the goal for the next couple seasons. We need to recruit some front runners, but also develop the squad that we have. The team is young, and developing them will be good for the future.”

This was the final race for Turman and Schulz, as they have reached their senior year. Both athletes will continue to compete for NMU, as Turman competes on the nordic skiing team and Schulz will begin training for the indoor season for the track and field team.

“It’s sad, but it’s not as hard as I thought it would be because (I also run) track,” Schulz said. “It’s weird, though, to think it’s the last race I’d run as a member of a team. I felt like as a team we did well, and we did better than in the past years.”

Grand Valley won the race with a dominating 26 points (11 points away from a perfect score of 15). Ferris State and Hillsdale finished in second and third, scoring 79 and 138 points respectively. These three teams will move onto the NCAA Championships this Saturday, Dec. 4 in Louisville, Ky.