This afternoon the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Cross Country Championships took place at Toledo’s Ottawa Park. In case you haven’t been following my previews of the meet, Ottawa Park is virtually across the street from where I grew up; the first race I ever ran there was in 1977 and I have logged thousands and thousands of miles in the park.
This was the first cross country meet bigger than a Mid-American Conference championships ever held in Toledo, and it was a success. University of Toledo head coach Kevin Hadsell has long wanted to host a regional and he finally got a chance.
Hadsell says that Toledo will also bid on the NCAA Championships in the future. Later this week I’ll examine the what Toledo has to offer and what improvements would have to be made for it to happen. Today I’ll just look at how things went with this meet.
The meet was held on a beautiful old municipal golf course, first established in 1899 and redone in 1977 by the famous Arthur Hills. It’s well put together for spectators, with the 2k, 4k, 6k, 8k and finish all very close together.
Temporary bleacher seats were brought in for the finish, along with a video board to show team scores at each of the above split points. An announcer kept us abreast of the action as well. It was well done for fans, and we were blessed with an unseasonably sunny day.
The men’s race started off with defending champion Eric Finan (Cincinnati) taking the lead from the gun, and Wisconsin’s #1-ranked squad going to the front immediately as well. At the 2k and 4k mark, #7 Indiana was back in seventh and sixth respectively, while Ohio State sat in second. A large pack of runners were together at the front.
Right after 4k, the course took a loop that finished with a steep incline of 50 yards or so, and the pretenders were dropped. Indiana went to second and stayed there, while Ohio State started dropping back.
Just after 8k, Butler’s Callum Hawkins had a small lead over Finan as they went up the steep hill a second time, and Hawkins extended that lead on the run-in to the finish. Over the last 50 yards, Michigan’s Craig Forys ran down Tecumseh Adams of Central Michigan for third.
Indiana took the next two spots, and then Wisconsin brought five guys jogging across the line, shoulder to shoulder. Hardly even looking winded, it was obviously nothing more than a Q-round for them.
Final scoring held to form, with Wisconsin and Indiana taking the automatic qualifying spots, and Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State next, all expected to earn at-large bids to nationals. Butler was sixth, holding out hope for a bid as well; if not, their two leading runners will go as individuals.
The women’s race held a bit more drama. The early leader was Toledo’s Ari Fisher, an All-American last year who missed most of the season to injury. At 2k the leading score was by Wisconsin, not one of the favorites, followed by Michigan and Toledo.
The Rockets, the home team, needed a high finish to have any hope of getting to nationals. Without the services of Fisher, they had no wins over teams likely to give them at-large qualifying points. As the race went on, Fisher began to fade.
Teammate Emma Kertesz, a Toledo native with plenty of experience on this course from high school, picked up the slack and took the lead by 4k, but was visibly struggling. In the last mile of the race, Michigan’s Danielle Tauro and Rebecca Addison and Wisconsin’s Caitlin Comfort took over the lead, with the two Wolverines making the final move to go 1-2 and lead Michigan to a comfortable victory.
After that, it got interesting. Initially, Toledo flashed up on the finish board as second, before a recalculation put Michigan State as the runners-up. The Rockets held onto third, ahead of presumed at-large qualifiers Wisconsin and Notre Dame. We’ll have to wait and see, but it looks like they punched their ticket to nationals. Coach Hadsell didn’t quite go the full Rollie Massimino, but was in the neighborhood.
All in all, the meet was a resounding success. There were minor missteps, as would be expected from an athletic department with no prior experience putting on major cross country or track events. Doubtlessly this was the biggest crowd Ottawa Park has ever seen, be it for cross country or golf.
Can the national championships come to my hometown? I’ll examine that possibility later this week. Right now I’ll just say that if it does, there will be a bitchin’ party at my house.