Northern Michigan University Wildcats draw invite to NCAA Division II women’s cross country finals

Northern Michigan University’s Katelyn Smith crosses the finish line in sixth place overall, second for NMU, during the women’s cross country meet at the GLIAC Championships on Oct. 21 at Gentz's Homestead Golf Course in Chocolay Township. She also placed 19th at the NCAA Division II Midwest Regionals on Saturday in Cedarville, Ohio, helping the Wildcats reach fourth place and an at-large bid into the NCAA Championships on Nov. 18 in Evansville, Indiana. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University didn’t get an automatic qualifying spot, but the Wildcats’ fourth-place finish at Saturday’s Midwest Regional was apparently just as important in getting them a “wild card” spot in the upcoming NCAA Division II Championships.

The top three teams in eight regionals earned spots in the finals to be held in Evansville, Indiana, at 11:15 a.m. on Nov. 18.

Then the NCAA selected eight more schools from around the country outside the automatic qualifiers to fill out the field to 32 teams. That announcement was made Monday.

And NMU, ranked No. 17 in the country at the end of the regular season, was the only Midwest Regional participant to get an at-large spot. It probably helped that NMU tied for the smallest margin of missing the top three among the eight regionals, as the Wildcats scored 126 points to finish just 21 points behind third-place Walsh.

Midwest Regional fifth-place finisher Southern Indiana, only 11 behind NMU with 137 points, didn’t get an at-large bid to the nationals.

The other representatives at the NCAA nationals will be Midwest winner Grand Valley State and runner-up Hillsdale.

This marks the third consecutive year that NMU has made the NCAA nationals after the Wildcats finished ninth in 2015 and 14th in 2016. The 2002 Northern squad had the school’s best-ever finish in fourth.

At the Midwest meet, three NMU runners earned all-region honors by placing in the top 25. For the fourth straight year, senior Kameron Burmeister of Menominee ran to all-region distinction when she paced the Wildcats in fifth in a season-best time of 21 minutes, 38.9 seconds, ending in a virtual (by the clock) tie with Grand Valley’s Kelly Haubert and missing first place by 20 seconds.

Burmeister’s senior teammate Vivian Hett was 14th in 21:59.0 and sophomore Katelyn Smith 19th in 22:02.6 to also be named all-region.

Just as important were the solid finishes of junior Abby Fifarek, junior Sophie McDonald, senior Kieren Becker and sophomore Hanna Torvi, all of whom came in between 40th and 55th.

Former Westwood High School runner Kathryn Etelamaki, who now runs for Ferris State, didn’t miss an at-large invite by much. Etelamaki was 20th in 22:03.2 with two runners from non-qualifying teams at the Midwest Regional also being selected for the nationals.

Those two were Jade Smith of Malone, who was third in 21:31.3, and Hope Jones of Southern Indiana, sixth in 21:42.8.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.