The women’s cross country team will compete against the nation’s elite at the NCAA National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.
The University of Louisville will host 31 teams from across the nation. Eighteen programs qualified by finishing in the top two of the nine respective Regional competitions. Columbia, along with 12 other teams, qualified based on at-large performance throughout the season.
The Lions took fourth place at Regionals in Buffalo, and were led by junior Erin Gregoire and senior Sarah Hardie’s respective times of 22:00.6 and 22:17, for eighth- and 12th-place finishes.
Conditions in Buffalo were severe, and sub-freezing temperatures, strong wind, and rain water on the course may have contributed to junior Nell Crosby’s unremarkable time of 22:46.6, which earned her a 46th place finish.
Still, head coach Dan Ireland is confident that she will rebound at Nationals.
“It can just get frustrating if you fall out of the zone, out of competing, and that’s what she did. She struggled to finish because she got herself in a place she wasn’t familiar with,” Ireland said. “I think she’s motivated to show the team that she’s better than that race.”
Despite heading back to Nationals for the first time since 2005, Ireland is not worried about his team’s ability to compete. In mid-October, the Lions took 12th place at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, a meet of comparable caliber to Nationals. Crosby led the way with her time of 20:28.9 and 35th-place finish.
“We don’t want to be one of those teams that’s just happy to be there,” Ireland said. “We want to go out and still be hungry for some things.”
The top teams the Light Blue will face are No. 1 Colorado and No. 2 New Mexico, according to the USTFCCCA rankings. Dartmouth, ranked 26th, will be the only other Ivy League competitor on the course.
The women’s team has made a remarkable turnaround since last season, when they finished eighth in the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and failed to qualify for Nationals. This year, the runners have consistently been nationally ranked and took first place at Heps.
Ireland attributes much of this success to the team’s mentality.
“The whole team has really bought in this year, not just those girls that are running in the top five or seven,” Ireland said. “The whole team has taken a step forward in what they believe they can accomplish.”
The women’s NCAA Championship will take place on Saturday, Nov. 18 in Louisville, Kentucky, at 11:00 a.m.