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Wildcats runners prepare for NCAA Championships

MARQUETTE – A collegiate cross country team’s ultimate goal is to clinch a spot in the NCAA Championships and bring home a national title.

The Northern Michigan University Wildcats have done the first part, and this weekend, they’ll try to achieve the second part.

The Wildcats, ranked No. 11 in the nation, compete at the NCAAs on Saturday for the first time in a decade after finishing fourth in the Midwest Regional on Nov. 7. Fellow GLIAC members Grand Valley State and Hillsdale will also compete on Saturday.

Northern head coach Jenny Ryan says that her team is looking forward to the meet after coming up just short of earning a bid the last few years. She also says that it wasn’t a surprise when her team achieved its goal.

“It’s really exciting to get the opportunity to compete at the national championship,” she said. “The last two years, we’ve been very close to qualifying, so it’s exciting that we finally did it.”

“In a way it was (surprising), but after last year, we knew we were pretty close. We actually ended up sixth in the region and they take four, but all season we were ranked in the top 15. However, our region was so strong that we didn’t make it.

“Those three freshmen who ran last year and the ones that I recruited this year really made a difference.”

Ryan says she has a young squad that has made a lot of progress over the course of the season and that an extra year of experience helped out her sophomores.

“Three of the top five that I had last year are sophomores,” she said. “So they’ve had another year of training and have gotten better. I also added three strong freshmen this year and then the one senior that we have (Megan Edic), she’s also trained hard and moved up. Our training has really improved over the last year and our focus has been to reach our goal of reaching the national championships.”

The Wildcats are led by Menominee sophomore Kameron Burmeister. Burmeister was named to the All-Midwest Region team as well as the All-GLIAC First Team, and she won at the U.P. Championships earlier in the season.

“Last year when Kameron came in, she was just a freshman and I told her that she’d probably be No. 6 or 7 on the team,” Ryan said.

“Then over the summer, she was really motivated and is just a natural talent, and is also really focused on her goals.

“She just came on and became our No. 1 runner last year. She’s been on a roll since then and has been solid since she started.”

While Burmeister is the Wildcats’ leader, freshman Sophie McDonald is a close second. McDonald was also named to the All-Midwest Region team and earned a spot on the All-GLIAC Second Team after finishing just 11 seconds behind Burmeister.

“Sophie’s on the NMU ski team and I knew she was going to be a fast runner and a top runner,” Ryan said.

“But I’m really impressed with how she’s come on and become our No. 2 runner for most of the season. She’s solid, hard-working and positive. She’s a good athlete.”

McDonald is one of four Wildcats, along with Edic, Vivian Hett and Caroline Brisbois, going to the nationals who are also members of the NMU Nordic ski team. Northern has a unique set-up in that the two teams help each other out. Ryan thinks it is a big benefit to both squads.

“That really helps us because there’s not many teams where the coaches in different sports will work together, like letting the skiers run and the runners ski,” she said. “I started working with (Nordic ski coach) Sten (Fjeldheim) and we’ve always had a good relationship. We’re able to recruit kids that are good in both sports. It really helps both of us because it makes just really solid programs.”

Heading into the weekend, Ryan is feeling positive about her team’s chances and says they just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing all season.

“Everybody is feeling good and we’ve raced well all season,” she said. “I think we’re ready to go and I think we can be in the top 10 and on a really good day, in the top six or seven.

“We are just focusing on running a solid, smart race like we’ve been doing all year. We’re all positive and excited and happy to be going to nationals.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-250, ext. 246. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.