Women's cross country seniors attempt a comeback at Regionals

Cardinals Nowak, Ritz have battled injuries all season.

Both have struggled to come back from early-season injuries to get back into top form.

Both have qualified for the NCAA Championships before, with one attaining All-America status last year.

On Saturday, women's cross country seniors Katie Nowak and Stacey Ritz will attempt to make their comebacks complete when Ball State competes at the Great Lakes Regionals.

Nowak, who advanced for NCAAs two years ago, suffered from what head coach Sue Parks called "a lot of little things that added up". In the summer she strained her hamstring, and besides that she battled a virus and iron deficiencies, causing her to struggle in the early meets.

Ritz, who placed 17th at last year's NCAA meet, had to miss the first couple meets of this season because of her injury.

"Stacey's was a bigger thing," Parks said. "She had tendinitis in the lower leg that she's struggled with the past few years.

"Fortunately, from our standpoint, (the injuries) happened early enough that they had a chance to regroup for MAC and regionals. If it had happened now, it would be a disaster."

Both women admitted that coming back from their respective injuries have been no easy task.

"(It's been) very, very tough," Ritz said. "I've only run a couple cross country seasons here, and I've had injuries all the way through. It's been tough every time, because you want everything to go right."

Nowak added that it can a frustrating process.

"You work all summer, and you can't get to where you're supposed to be and where you want to be," she said. "I don't feel like I'm all the way back. Maybe another race and I'll be back in the groove."

No matter how far back they've come, Parks has been pleased with the progress.

"It's a tough thing to do at this level," she said. "Once you fall behind, there's so many good people it's tough to get yourself back when you're in the midst of a season.

"I think the team aspect has kept them going. They knew they had to try and get back to where they were last year to try to help the team.

I give them credit for staying positive and motivated about it."

However, Ritz and Nowak showed two weeks ago at the Mid-American Conference Championships that they are getting closer to top form. The duo placed fifth (in 17:48.2) and seventh (17:56.6), respectively, to help the Cardinals finish as runners-up for the third year in a row.

Due to her injury, Ritz has had to train apart from her teammates, running less miles and on doing so on the road. While she admits to feeling bad about that, the rest of the Cards have been accommodating.

"She's so talented that I'm willing to do that, and the rest of the girls understand that," Parks said.

While Nowak is definitely in her final year of cross country, Ritz has missed so much time due to injury that the fifth-year senior is applying for a medical redshirt in order to possibly race again next fall. Parks likes Ritz's chances of coming back.

"I think she's probably going to get it," she said. "Usually when you've sat out more than a year they give it to you. I guess it's not a sure thing, but I'd love to see her come back and try one more season.

"But we don't know, so it could be the last go-around for both of them."

If Ritz and Nowak are able to further their comeback, Saturday's regionals at West Lafayette may not be their last go-around. Both think the team still has a better race in it after taking second at the MAC Championships.

"We had a good race, but I think all of us can step up a notch," Nowak said."

"Last year I had a better chance individually and did a lot better," Ritz said of her own chances. "But this year I think I have an outside chance and Katie does as well. I think we have an outside chance as a team."


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