Kelsey Harris knew her career could be over. With an opportunity to race for a national championship before her career came to a close, the senior left everything out on the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course.
The IU women finished sixth at the Great Lakes Regional in Madison, Wisconsin. The IU men secured an at-large qualification for the NCAA National Championship next week with a fourth-place finish.
Harris stole the show for the IU women fighting to make the national championships. An All-American in the 800 meters on the track, Harris has morphed into the leader of the women's team that has four true freshmen, one redshirt freshman, one sophomore and Harris. However, she has primarily been a sixth- or seventh-placing runner on the cross-country team — until Friday afternoon in Madison.
Harris stayed in a center pack of runners, including Hoosier freshman Abby Green, through most of the race. However, it was a late push down the stretch that gave Harris a 36th place finish — a far cry from being 72nd overall and the fifth Hoosier runner to finish two weeks ago at the Big Ten Championships.
“She struggled the last couple races,” IU head coach Ron Helmer said. “For her to put it together and have her best race of her life, that’s the leadership that we need.”
Harris’ 36th place finish may have been the difference for IU to qualify as a team for the NCAA national championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, next Saturday. After the top two teams in each region’s race automatically qualify, there are 13 teams that receive at-large bids.
IU is projected to be oneof the last few teams to qualify in what would be the third straight season of qualification for the Hoosier women. The moment of keeping her career alive was not lost for Harris down the stretch of the six kilometer race.
“This just meant it was an opportunity to extend our season one more week and toe the line one more time,” Harris said. “Since I knew it might be my final race, it gave me a little extra energy to surge forward at the end.”
The Hoosier women will have to wait until tomorrow for the selection show at 5 p.m. to know for certain if they are headed to Terre Haute.
Even if the Hoosiers do not receive an at-large bid, sophomore Bailey Hertenstein and redshirt freshman Sarah Schmitt’s seventh and 12th place finishes earned them All-Region honors and an invitation to National Championships as individuals.
The Hoosier men will send all seven runners to Terre Haute. A fourth-place finish in the best cross-country region in the country will be enough for an at-large invitation. While Michigan was third and the University of Notre Dame in second, they were just one and two points ahead of the Hoosiers. Even champion Purdue was just six points ahead of its rivals to the south.
IU had actually beaten all three teams at meets earlier this season. And to add to the proof of the chaos in Madison, Big Ten champion Wisconsin, running on its home course, was fifth.
Seniors Ben Veatch and Kyle Mau continued to lead the way for IU. Veatch continued his late-season tear by using his kick to break out of a jammed pack of 13 runners, separated by three seconds to finish fourth. Mau was right behind to place seventh.
Arjun Jha was a major contributor again for IU. Staying with Veatch and Mau, the sophomore also earned All-Region honors, placing 12th. Jha’s growing level of confidence has been key to IU giving the Hoosiers the best top three runners in the Great Lakes region and one of the best in the country.
“[Kyle and Ben] have been great leaders to me all season," Jha said. "Working out with them all season has been an absolute pleasure and made me a better athlete. I kept believing in and trusting my team and coaches.”
The 10 kilometer race was crowded and chaotic, and the back end of IU’s team struggled. While senior Bryce Millar was 23rd for IU, sophomores Reese Jordan and Dustin Horter were 41st and 47th respectively, while freshman Matt Schadler placed 48th.
“I don’t think [Reese, Dustin, and Matt] gave themselves a chance,” Helmer said. “They got detached from the pack fairly earlier; they just got where they did and didn’t do what they needed to put themselves in position at the end.”
With both IU men and women awaiting an official announcement tomorrow, it could be a second straight year of both teams qualifying for the NCAA National Championships.