MARQUETTE - Despite falling one place short of a bid to the NCAA Division II national championship meet, the Northern Michigan University women's cross country team deemed the overall season a success, according to head coach Jenny Ryan.
The Wildcats tied for fifth place out of 15 teams at the GLIAC Championship on Oct. 26, and placed fifth out of 27 teams at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship this month.
Ryan said she knew going into regionals ranked No. 8 there would be a battle for fourth to eighth place.
Northern Michigan University sophomore Megan Edic (33) leads sophomore teammate Mary Kate Cirelli during the U.P. Championship cross country meet on Oct. 18 at the NMU Golf Course in Chocolay Township. (Journal file photo by Delaney Lovett)
"I thought on a perfect day we could be fourth, but even on an excellent day we could be fifth," Ryan said. "So I thought definitely we had a great day."
From 2000-05, NMU cross country qualified for every national meet. This season was the highest the Wildcats placed since 2007, when they also placed fifth.
Ryan said the 'Cats have been rebuilding since 2007, but also had a streak of bad luck, including top runners falling ill and getting injured.
"Finally, I think I've rebuilt the team and we've had a little more luck on our side," Ryan said. "It feels really good."
At regionals, NMU beat teams that were ranked in the top 15 of the country, including Malone and Southern Indiana. Although Ryan said rankings are more challenging in cross country, she thinks it shows the 'Cats finished strong.
"One of the hardest things in cross country running is to get all seven athletes healthy and feeling good at the right time," Ryan said.
"If one of your runners is off just a little bit, it can really affect the team score."
As a team, the Wildcats placed in the top third of each competition and had two team victories on the year at the Pre-GLIAC Meet at Michigan Tech and the U.P. Championship at the NMU Golf Course.
Each of the runners competes in another sport during cross country offseason, whether it's cross country skiing or indoor and outdoor track and field.
NMU returns six of its top seven and nine of its top 10 runners next year. Some of the athletes, including sophomores Mary Kate Cirelli and Megan Edic, still have two years of eligibility remaining.
Cirelli was the Wildcats top finisher at regionals, taking 22nd place in 22 minutes, 14 seconds. Edic was 29th in 22:32. Both were the Wildcats top two finishers at the GLIAC meet as well, placing in the top 30.
Ryan said she is in the process of signing new talent onto the team and is hoping to add three more recruits to the Wildcats.
"I'm really excited for next year," Ryan said. "The team's already going to be strong, but I'm going to make it even stronger."
Ryan said she is thankful for the support of the administration and athletic director this season, as well as her coaching staff and athletes.
"This is a great group of young women," Ryan said. "They worked really hard, they came together as a team and supported each other, and they ran well all season."