Nationals Berth?: Bull Dogs likely would have qualified had national meet not been canceled

TERRE HAUTE — The persistent presence of COVID-19 led to the cancellation of the Nike Cross Nationals for the second year in a row.

Had they not been canceled, Columbus North girls coach Rick Sluder is confident his Bull Dogs would have been one of the 20 teams selected to compete in the unofficial high school cross-country national championships after their third-place finish in Sunday’s Nike Midwest Regional.

“I just couldn’t be more proud of those girls and how they ran today,” Sluder said. “We get to walk away from this saying we would have been at nationals in Portland.”

In previous years, the top two from each of the eight regional meets, plus four at-large teams were picked for the early-December Nike Cross Nationals. Sluder said he talked to a representative from Nike who told him that because the Bull Dogs were the Indiana state champions and only eight points out of second in the regional, they likely would have been one of the at-large teams.

“I think our team ran really well,” junior Brianna Newell said. “We showed up and did what we were wanting to do. All the girls really gave their hardest, which I’m really happy about.”

York (Illinois) won the 22-team championship race at the regional with 49 points. Prospect (Illinois) finished second with 116, while Columbus North took third with 124 and Naperville (Illinois) North was fourth with 140.

Carmel, which finished only 13 points behind the Bull Dogs in the state meet on Oct. 30 on the same LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, was sixth on Sunday with 233 points.

“Individually, we had some girls beat girls today that beat us at the state meet,’ Sluder said. “We might have run better than we did at the state meet or run a really comparable race, so we were excited about that.”

Wintry conditions made times a little slower than at the state meet. Snow fell on Sunday morning, and when it stopped around noon, winds picked up to as fast as 40 MPH.

The Girls Championship race, which went off at 2:45 p.m., was one of the final races of a long day on a muddy course.

“I think we ran really well as a team,” junior Lily Baker said. “With the conditions being not very great, they don’t really affect us. So I’m happy with how we ran.”

Baker led North with a 32nd-place finish in 19 minutes, 17.6 seconds for 5,000 meters (3.1 miles). Brianna Newell took 40th in 19:31.1.

“The course was really muddy,” Newell said. “It was really slippery on one hill. It was better than state in some areas and worse in other areas.”

Junior Julia Kiesler finished 50th in 19:43.8. Senior Katherine Rumsey took 68th in 19:55.7, while senior Abby Jacobi was 90th (20:22.8), Alyssa Green 102nd (20:33.4) and junior Sydney Morlok 117th (20:45.6).

“All seven ran great,” Sluder said. “Nobody had an off day. They all ran strong. Unlike the state meet, we weren’t in first the whole time. We just kept moving up. Our 5, 6 and 7 runners kept picking people off.

“We were super excited with our performance,” he added. “It was brutal conditions, and it really slowed things down. From winning the state meet two weeks ago to today, it was just great.”

Meanwhile, eight other North girls ran individuals in the Girls Open 2 race. Jessica Meza finished 42nd in 21:11.0, while Ellen White was 44th (21:13.4), Kenzie Meyer 144th (21:51.2) , Julie Klaus 189th (24:32.0). Macy Eaton 190th (24:32.2), Shriya Shivadelar 216th (25:47.6), Katie Frazier 217th (25:56.5 ), and Maia Jamieson 234th (28:39.9).

Both the Bull Dog girls and boys teams will compete in the Running Lane National Championship Dec. 4 in Huntsville, Alabama.

“I’m excited,” Baker said. “It’s a fast course, and I’m excited to see how we run.”