Only two weeks after becoming the first All-Mid-American Conference finishers in the history of NIU cross country, freshman Kelsey Hildreth and senior Meghan Heuer became the school’s first All-Region selections.
The Huskie duo finished in the Top 20 of the NCAA Cross Country Midwest Regional 6K race Friday afternoon at Newman Golf Course in Peoria.
In a race that featured more than 220 runners and teams from 13 different conferences, NIU was one of just four schools – joined by Iowa State, Minnesota and Northwestern – to have two runners finish in the Top 20 of the event as Hildreth took 11th and Heuer nabbed 20th. Also of note, Hildreth finished as the top runner from a school in the state of Illinois while placing as the second-best freshman in the region.
The dynamic Huskie duo of Hildreth and Heuer just missed out on the four automatic individual qualifying places for next week’s NCAA National Championship race after Iowa State and Minnesota claimed the two automatic entire-team berths to nationals. At-large berths to nationals for teams and individuals will be announced tomorrow.
NIU cross country head coach Greg Hipp praised the historic performance of his two top racers, crediting their clutch performances on the best day in the program’s history.
“Kelsey and Meghan ran really well and put themselves up in the lead group from the very beginning. Their level of confidence was great to see as they competed with the leaders throughout the entire race,” Hipp said. “It’s always exciting to watch someone fulfill their potential in a race, and they both did that today.”
Hildreth completed her fantastic freshman season by missing out on automatically qualifying for nationals by just four positions. Her Midwest Regional time of 20:36.4 was almost 19 seconds better than her time Oct. 17 at the Bradley Classic race, which was also run at Newman Golf Course in Peoria.
“Kelsey is such a competitor, so she’s disappointed to not qualify for nationals,” Hipp said. “But to finish as the top runner from the state of Illinois and the second best freshman in the Midwest, she certainly has so much to be proud of. And I’m sure trips to the National Championship race are in her future.”
Heuer finished her senior campaign with a magnificent effort of 20:47.3, finishing 53 seconds better than when she raced at the same course less than a month ago and smashing her personal-best 6K time, set two weeks ago at the MAC Championship, by 22 seconds.
“Meghan ran so aggressively these past couple of weeks, and we’re so proud of her performance,” Hipp said. “She’s always been a great runner at the end of the season, and she really showed that again this year.”
As a team, NIU finished in 23rd place as sophomore Carly Pederson (Bloomington, Ill./Normal Community) finished with a personal-best 6K time of 22:34.8, freshman Lorena Martin (Salamanca, Spain/IFS Fray Luis de Leon) ran in 22:40.9 and redshirt freshman Taylor Perkins (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville North) also set a personal best with a time of 22:59.7.
“We can definitely be proud of our performance as a team,” Hipp added. “Now we’ll work toward getting healthy for track this season and next year’s cross country, because we have big plans to move forward with for NIU long-distance running. Today was a big step for this program.”