After a successful regular season, the Wisconsin Badgers cross country teams have an opportunity to compete in a national championship. But first they had to travel to Terre Haute, Indiana, to compete in the NCAA Great Lakes Regional hosted by Indiana State University.
The men started the race as expected number one overall 53rd Big Ten Championship in the program history. They jumped Notre Dame, who was struggling in her race last weekend at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship.
The women, on the other hand, started the race as the fifth-best team in the field of 33 teams. Wisconsin needed another quality performance to have a chance at the NCAA championships.
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The women was the first race of the day, competing against some of the nation’s best teams including Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State and Toledo. Aside from the top five runners, the leading group of competitors stayed very close throughout the race as the placings were separated by just tenths of a second.
Samantha Stieve led Wisconsin at the Regionals, running her 6K 20:15She cut 17 seconds from her performance two weeks ago at the Big Ten Championship. Teammate Shea Ruhly followed 14th place, who finished just three seconds behind Stieve. Lucinda Crouch managed to get through to her 20th placegiving the Badgers three all-region runners.
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After these two runners was Victoria Heiligenthal and Alexa Westleyscore 129 points as a team. Both runners were able to move forward after the 4k mark in the race, allowing the Badgers to rush ahead of other teams such as Toledo, which was a Championship weekend suspension.
Wisconsin finished fifth as predicted and awaited their fate Saturday afternoon when the NCAA had their selection show. The committee determined that Wisconsin was one of the top 13 teams not to make the top two in their region and gave them one at-large offer for the NCAA championship.
For the men, Wisconsin continued to heat up as a team and placed first meet in the Great Lakes Regional.
The six-man combination of Evan Bishop, Rowen Ellenberg, Jackson Sharp, Charlie Wheeler, Jack Meijer and Bob Likeing finished in that order on Friday. Between those six runners, the key to first place in Wisconsin, no competitor finished.
Places eight through 13 all went to Badgers Friday as each of the runners ran their own 10K in 30:07 or 30:08 Protocol. There was just under 0.8 seconds between the first Badger finisher, Evan Bishop, and the last, Bob Likeing.
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This clean team run earned Wisconsin a team score of 50 points. Of the 29 teams competing in Indiana on Friday, Notre Dame was the next closest team at 61.
The Badgers finish with their first place claimed their automatic bid for the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Notre Dame was the second team to receive an automatic offer.
The men’s team has now placed itself first in four of their meetings this season, speaks to the dominance of this year’s group.
The Badgers have another chance in 2022 to prove they deserve to be at the top of the cross-country hierarchy. The group has very specific goals that go into the meeting.
Eighteen automatic qualifiers, plus the 13 teams that applied at large, will compete for a national championship at Oklahoma State University’s Greiner Family Cross Country Course. The top four people from each regional meet whose teams didn’t make it to the championship will also race on Saturday.
Northern Arizona has won five of the last six championships, and the Wisconsin men’s team hasn’t brought home a title since the 2011 season. In the women’s division, the team is aiming for its first national championship since the 1985 season, which it repeated for a second straight season under former head coach Peter Tegen.
It’s an important weekend for the Badgers as they seek to establish themselves at the top of the collegiate cross-country circuit.