2006 Big Ten Women's Cross Country Championships
For the first time in 10 years, Indiana will host the Big Ten Cross Country Championships on Sunday, Oct. 30, at Indiana University Cross Country Course in Bloomington, Ind. The women's 6,000-meter race will begin at 10:45 a.m. ET followed by the men's 8,000-meter run at 11:30 a.m. The top men's and women's teams will be crowned league champion and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. The top seven finishers will be named to the All-Conference first team and finishers eight through 14 will be designated with second team honors.
The Michigan women matched a record for biggest margin of victory in their run to a fourth consecutive Big Ten Championship in 2005. Individually, Illinois' Cassie Hunt, the 2005 women's individual champion, returns to the championship field. While the whole field will be looking to end the Wolverines' dominance, Michigan comes in with another strong team.
Four women's squads enter the Big Ten Championships ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation. Following No. 3 Michigan is No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 6 Minnesota and No. 9 Illinois. Michigan State is ranked 13th nationally and Iowa is 23rd.
Here's a quick look at some of the top athletes to watch for in this year's championships:
After finishing runner-up to Michigan in 2005, Illinois is poised for another run at its first title. Leading the way is reining Big Ten Champion Cassie Hunt. The 2005 Athlete of the Championships returns to defend her individual title, which she won by two seconds over Michigan's Allison Kohlmeier.
The Illini also boast a stellar leader in freshman Angela Bizzarri. The rookie has led the way for the Orange and Blue all season. She propelled Illinois to a first place team finish with her gold-medal performance at the Brissman-Lundeen Invite in late September before leading the squad to two more top-five races.
Two weeks ago, Bizzarri crushed the Illini 6K freshman record by almost 25 seconds with a 20:26 performance, finishing eighth overall and leading the Illini to a seventh-place finish at the Pre-National competition in Terre Haute, Ind. The previous 6K record of 20:50 was set by reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Katie Engel at the 2005 National Championships. Bizzarri was the second true freshmen to cross the finish line at Pre-Nationals, behind Wisconsin's Hanna Grinaker, who finished fifth.
The Indiana Hoosiers are again led by a pair of veteran harriers in seniors Jessica Gall and Lindsay Hattendorf. Since entering the season ranked among the nation's 30 fastest squads, Indiana claimed its fourth straight Indiana Intercollegiates title with a team score of 38 points. A two-time All-American, Gall holds the sixth-fastest 5K time (17:40.0) on the IU Cross Country Course. She set that standard on Sept. 9 at the Indiana Open and has led the Hoosiers in the last four straight races, placing among the top 10 in three of those four meets.
The three-time All-Big Ten honoree claimed her top finish of the year at the Indiana Intercollegiates on Sept. 15 with a career-best time of 17:36.3. The time sealed Gall's individual title and led the Hoosiers to their fourth consecutive meet championship. She heads into the championship season after placing seventh overall in the 6K at Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., on Oct. 14 with a time of 20:29.
Hattendorf has been right on Gall's heels for most of her career, placing as the second-speediest Hoosier in 12 meets during her five seasons in Bloomington. This year, she notched a season-best time of 21:00 in the 6K at Pre-Nationals on Oct. 14. A three-time NCAA qualifier, Hattendorf ran a career-best 6K race (20:48) at the 2005 NCAA Championships.
The Iowa Hawkeye harriers are coming off a 10th place finish in the Terre Haute Pre-Nationals race. The team has been led by junior Meghan Armstrong, who raced to a 13th place finish of 20:34 in Iowa's last race. Other key runners for Iowa are juniors Racheal Marchand and Diane Nukuri, redshirt freshman Krista Anderson and senior Shannon Stanley.
Armstrong, who finished 17th in last year's conference meet, looks to lead the Hawkeyes into the top-half of the Big Ten standings after placing seventh as a unit in 2005.
The third-ranked Michigan Wolverines are on the prowl for the team's fifth straight conference title and eighth overall, after posting three consecutive titles from 1992-94 and the last four since 2002. The squad is quite familiar with success on the IU course, including their run to the NCAA Great Lakes Regional title last year.
Wolverine coach Mike McGuire, now in his 15th season, has seen his teams garner a top two finish 13 times at the annual conference championships. In last year's meet, the Wolverines placed three runners in the top 10 and scored all five runners in the top 14 - finishing within 37 seconds of each other.
Junior Alyson Kohlmeier, who finished runner-up at the Big Ten meet last year, and Erin Webster lead to the Maize and Blue this season. A seventh-place finisher at the 2005 event, Webster captured two Runner of the Week awards this season and led the pack in three races this September, including one gold medal run on the IU course at the Indiana Open and back-to-back team victories in the following weeks. Webster was named Big Ten Conference Runner of the Week twice this season after her winning performance at the Indiana Open and for her fourth-place finish at the NCAA Pre-Nationals (Oct. 14).
The Michigan State harriers have produced top-10 finishes in each of their three scored races this season including a title performance in their Spartan Invitational on Sept. 15. Pacing the Spartans this season is Baylor transfer Alissa McKaig. The gold medalist in both the Jeff Drenth Memorial and the Spartan Invitational, McKaig has placed sixth or higher in every meet this season. The newcomer also garnered Michigan State's first weekly honor since 2004 when she was named Big Ten Runner of the Week on Sept. 5.
After missing the 2005 cross country season due to illness, Nicole Bush returned to top form in the 2006 outdoor track season, snatching All-America honors in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Bush and McKaig will look to lead the Spartans past their fifth-place finish from a year ago - the team's lowest since 2000. Michigan State won its third Big Ten Championship in school history in 2001 and finished runners-up from 2002-2004.
Minnesota boasts two veteran front-runners returning to the Big Ten meet and a healthy does of young talent preparing to compete in their first cross country championship. Emily Brown and Ladia Albertson-Junkans both went on to earn All-America honors last season after finishing third and fifth, respectively, in the Big Ten meet. Brown took third place with a time of 21:11.74 in last year's event, while Albertson-Junkans finished sixth (21:13.19). This year's race marks the first time in program history that two first-team All-Big Ten Gophers return to the championships.
While Brown and Albertson-Junkans have led the way for the season, they are surrounded by a strong group including sophomore Gabriele Anderson and four freshmen and two redshirts freshman. Other than Brown and Albertson-Junkans, only one other Gopher, junior Katie Howery, has any Big Ten experience. Megan Duwell, also a redshirt freshman, completes the Gophers' nine-runner lineup for the Big Ten Championships.
Minnesota soared 12 spots to sixth in the latest national rankings, giving this year's squad the highest national nod in program history, after an impressive second-place finish in the Pre-NCAA race.
Led by sophomore Allison King Potomac the Northwestern Wildcats are coming off a 10th-place performance in the Terre Haute Pre-National race. King's time of 21:51 earned her fifth place while sophomore Hilary Forman was the next Wildcat across the line at 37th with a time of 22:55. She was followed by junior Celia Franklin in 44th with a time of 23:05.
Ohio State's core group of runners is a young but eager squad coming into the Big Ten Championships. The Buckeyes have been led by two underclassmen most of the season in Rachel Stichter and Sarah Foster. Stichter piloted the team to a 34th place finish in the pre-NCAA race with a 95th place finish and a career-best time of 21:39.4.
Foster, who has taken home two individual titles this season and a Big Ten runner of the week award on Sept. 19, led the women's team to a title at the Xavier Invitational with a first-place finish in her first collegiate race. A week later, she again took the individual title in the Buckeye Invitational, leading the women to its second straight win.
After finishing 11th in 2004 at the Big Ten championships, the women's team had the largest improvement of any team in the league as they moved up to ninth last season. The squad, which has seen its name in the regional rankings this season, will look to make another big jump this season after claiming its two team trophies. Melanie Price, finished 39th in 22:40.54, returns as the highest-placing Buckeye from last year's championships race.
A troupe of talented newcomers looks to improve on Penn State's 10th place finish from last year's championship. The Nittany Lions narrowly missed ninth-place Ohio State by one point.
Bridget Franek didn't waste any time making her mark for Penn State. The rookie has been impressive all season, kicking off the season with two first place finishes in the Lock Haven and Penn State National Invitationals. She also earned Big Ten Athlete of the Week honors on Oct. 10. Backing Franek are fellow freshmen Cheryl Spring and Jessica Babcock. A pair of sophomores in Claire Percival and Janelle Young round out the Nittany Lions top harriers.
Leading Purdue is rookie Kristin Phillips. The freshman posted the Boilermakers' best time at for the second time this season, leading the pack at the Indiana Intercollegiates and in the pre-NCAA race. In her first collegiate 6K race, Phillips paced the Boilermakers with a time of 21:47.6 in the Pre-Nationals competition. Right behind her was classmate Katie Morrical, notching a 22:01.1, while junior Carrie Fett was the third Boilermaker to finish, registering a 22:34.4.
Fett returns to the conference championships as the highest-placing Boilermaker from last year's event. She crossed the finish line at 23:01.74 for 52nd place.
After finishing sixth with 146 team points in last year's conference meet, the young and talented Wisconsin Badgers are ready to make a go at ending Michigan's title reign. The Badgers jumped four spots to fifth in the latest national rankings, marking the highest poll spot for the Badgers since 2000 when Wisconsin finished eighth at the NCAA championships.
Racing against the top teams in the nation, the Badgers tied for second at the Brooks Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 14 with the third-ranked Wolverines. Freshman Hannah Grinaker led Wisconsin for the third time this season, placing fifth out of 253 runners with a time of 20:17. Katrina Rundhaug improved one spot from last season, placing 13th in a time of 20:32, nearly five seconds faster than her 2005 Pre-National performance. Rundhaug led Wisconsin in last year's Big Ten race, taking 15th overall with a time of 21:39.74.