Women earn bid to nationals

Cross country team earns at-large bid to championship.

With what head coach Sue Parks said was unquestionably the women's cross country team's best race of the year, Ball State received an at-large bid to next week's NCAA Championships.

This will be the first time the Cardinals have advanced to th NCAA Championships. Seniors Stacey Ritz and Katie Nowak, who have qualified before as individuals, led the BSU effort Saturday. The Cards, ranked No. 9 in the latest Great Lakes Regional poll, finished with 136 points to take fifth. Notre Dame (63) and Michigan (107) were the top two teams and automatically advanced.

According to a press release, Ball State was named as one of the 13 at-large teams to join the 18 automatics. Parks was happy about the announcement.

"Making it to the NCAA Championships is a dream come true for us," she said.

"(Saturday) was the kind of race we knew we could run; we just hadn't done it yet."

Not only did the Cardinals place their top five within 14 spots or each other, but they finished within 14 seconds of each other.

Ritz (21st, 22:01.4) and Nowak (23rd, 22:02.1) led the way, followed by junior Crystal Meeks (22:09.1) in 28th, sophomore Sarah Huddleston (22:10.1) in 29th and sophomore Jill Scully (22:15.1) in 35th.

"When I saw the other girls all finished, I knew we had a good chance to make it because they were all right there," Meeks said. "Whether we had made it or not, I think we ran our hearts out."

Rounding out the BSU team were sophomore Aubrey Gaffer (75th, 23:05.6) and freshman Nicole Hartford (105th, 23:33.9).

Parks said the key was that her team was able to beat a few higher-ranked teams, namely Toledo, Wisconsin and Marquette.

"Really, there wasn't any reason for us to be ranked higher (than ninth)," she said. "At Minnesota (on Sept. 28), we finished over 200 points behind Michigan State, and Saturday we were only 16 back. We just continued to get better and healthier throughout the year."

Another big thing for the Cards was confidence.

"We knew we could do it, and that's what counted," Parks said. "What kept us going all year was knowing the potential we had. I'm glad to see we were able to get it together."

Meeks echoed that thought, saying "I think we surprised a lot of people."

The NCAA Championships will be held on Monday, Nov. 25 in Terre Haute.


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