Indiana cross country senior Arjun Jha finished ninth overall at the Great Lakes Regional Championships to secure his spot as an individual runner in the NCAA Championships next week, but neither the men’s or women’s side of the Indiana cross country team qualified for the meet as a team.
It’s the first season the Indiana men’s team failed to qualify for Nationals since 2017 and the first time neither Indiana team qualified since 2016.
The Indiana women’s team placed eighth in the 6K race, led by senior Sarah Schmitt in 27th with a time of 20:36.7. Behind her, sophomore Mariah Wehrle finished 29th, senior Maddie Dalton finished 50th, senior Hannah Stoffel finished 56th and Mikaela Ramirez finished 60th to round out the scoring for the team.
Head coach Ron Helmer said the team did not run with the intensity needed for a stronger finish.
“I thought that our women probably weren’t as good as they were in the Big Ten meet,” Helmer said. “They just didn’t quite have the same emotional investment, I’m not sure.”
On the men’s side, Jha finished the 10K race in 30:03.3 and Indiana placed sixth. The other scoring runners for the side were seniors Ben Veatch in 30th, Jake Gebhardt in 33rd, Skylar Stidam in 34th and sophomore Gabriel Sanchez in 38th. Helmer said the men’s team performed well, but without beating a ranked team, it wasn’t enough to qualify out of the Great Lakes Region.
“You know, it’s easy to say, but if we had been able to get into the national meet and run like we did today, we're probably a top-20 team in the country, but we're trying to get out of a really tough region,” Helmer said. “We didn't have the at-large points and that’s on us because of the way we performed or didn't perform earlier in the season.”
In addition to qualifying for nationals, Jha’s top-25 finish earned him All-Region honors. In order to secure his ninth place finish, Jha passed a group of three runners from the University of Notre Dame in the final hundred meters.
“He's done that all year long,” Helmer said. “He's done his work, he races really well and he's got great confidence in his ability right now. He doesn’t waste an opportunity.”
Jha said he was confident in his abilities but recognized there was a different level of energy at the meet with everyone pushing their hardest to qualify for nationals.
“You could feel the emotion of everybody bringing that intensity and you kind of felt that all the way through the whole race,” Jha said.
For the rest of Indiana’s runners, the 2021 cross country season is over. Helmer said it isn’t the result the team wanted, but he hopes the strides the runners made this season will carry over to track and field and the next cross country season in the fall.
“Everybody needs to reset,” Helmer said. “We’ve got to go ahead and just continue to get better and put this one behind us as quickly as we can. It’s disappointing because it’s not what we anticipated that this season would look like.”
In both the men’s and women’s races, Notre Dame won first and Wisconsin came in second to automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships. Both races also saw Michigan finish third, Michigan State finish fourth and Butler finish fifth to all earn at-large bids to the national championship races.
The Division I NCAA Championships take place next Nov. 20 at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Florida. Jha will race in the men’s 10K at 11:10 a.m.