Each and every runner that toes the line at the nine region championships around the nation has only one goal in mind…the NCAA Championships. Some will make their way to the national meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 20 as part of a team. Others will earn an individual berths. The distance is the same as so many races, but this 6-kilometer event means so much more.
The Midwest Region Championships features a roster of schools from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. A total of 10 conferences are represented in the Midwest Region, including, interesting enough, teams from the Big East (DePaul) and Atlantic 10 (St. Louis) Conferences.
A year ago, the Midwest Region sent three teams to the NCAA Championships, all of them recording top-10 finishes. With 17 of 25 student-athletes who earned all-region honors returning, the survivors of the regional competition should once again have a great opportunity to succeed at the national meet.
Defending Midwest Region champion Oklahoma State (Big 12) went on to a 10th-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 2005. The Cowgirls return three runners who earned all-region honors last year. Senior Mary Davies tallied a fifth-place showing at the Midwest meet then earned All-America honors by finishing 22nd in the NCAAs. Nina Anderson was one of the top freshmen in 2005, earning all-region acclaim with a 14th-place finish. Senior Eva Slavikova finished 21st.
The Big Ten had two teams, Illinois and Minnesota, tie for second-place in the 2005 Midwest Region standings and go on to impressive top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships. Illinois went on to a fifth-place NCAA finish and crowned two All-Americans, both whom are seniors in 2006. Cassie Hunt placed 10th at the 2005 NCAA meet, while Stephanie Simms finished 27th. Hunt was the 2004 Midwest Region medalist and placed seventh a year ago. Hunt and Simms are joined by a third all-region honoree from last season, junior Katie Engel who placed 24th. No. 13-ranked Illinois also features one of the top freshmen in the 2006 field in Angela Bizzarri, who placed fifth in the Big Ten.
Host Minnesota comes into the Midwest Region meet riding a wave of momentum. The Golden Gophers are the highest ranked team in the regional field at No. 6, also marking the highest rank is school history. Minnesota, the NCAA’s ninth-place team in 2005, is led by a pair of All-Americans in junior Ladia Albertson-Junkans and senior Emily Brown. Albertson-Junkans was the 2005 Midwest Region runner-up, while Brown was third. The order was reserved as both tabbed All-Big Ten honors two weeks ago, with Brown placing sixth and Albertson-Junkans seventh.
Iowa is the third ranked team in the Midwest Region Championships field, checking in at No. 23. The Hawkeyes are paced by 2005 all-region performers and juniors Meghan Armstrong (ninth) and Rachael Marchand (18th). Both Anderson and Marchand earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors in 2006, placing eighth and 12th respectively.
Missouri Valley champion Wichita State cruised the conference title by landing four runners in the top 10, two who are returning all-region runners. Senior Sarah Becker finished 17th at the 2005 regional and fourth at the recent MCC meet. Junior Mica Land, who earned all-region honors with a 23rd-place finish, notched a sixth-place MVC finish. Shocker junior Chelsie Baldwin ran to a second-place MCC finish, while Kimber Lemon was 10th.
Drake senior Ashley Anklam finished sixth in the 2005 Midwest Region Championships to earn her second all-region honors. Anklam, a veteran of many races run on the Les Bolstad course, was crowned the 2006 Missouri Valley Conference medalist.
Oral Roberts is the second conference team champion in the Midwest Region field. The Golden Eagles captured the Mid Continent Conference team title, behind Faithy Kamanglia individual medalist effort. Kamanglia is a two-time all-region honoree, placing second in 2004 and 16th in 2005.
Nebraska has one returning all-region runner in sophomore Ari Goldstein, who placed 10th in 2005. Goldstein and teammate Channing Anseth earned All-Big 12 Second Team at the conference championships two weeks ago.
Senior Sarah Rinker is another All-MVC performer who earned all-region accord last season. Rinker was 15th at the Midwest Region meet in 2005 and 10th in the 2006 MVC Championships.
Missouri State junior Kristin Wolkey completes the list of all-region runners returning the field in 2006. Wolkey was 25h a year ago.
A number of runners who earned all-conference honors will strive to join the ranks of the all-region performers. Bradley’s Sarah Westrick (6th) and Northern Iowa’s Traci Hawley (3rd) and Caedryn Schrunk (8th) posted top MVC finishes. Loyola was well represented on the All-Horizon League teams: Ashley Raymond (5th), Amanda Domich (8th), Maureeca Lambert (11th) and Jessie Morgenthal (14th). Illinois-Chicago’s Laura Macias (6th) also earned All-Horizon League honors.
Tulsa is the only Conference USA team in the regional field. The Golden Hurricane feature two top conference finishers: Alex Becker (3rd) and Lise Olivier (5th). Likewise, Eastern Illinois is the lone Ohio Valley Conference representative in the Midwest. The Panthers’ top runner is OVC Freshman of the Year Erin O’Grady.
Other top runners from the Big 12 Championships are Oklahoma’s Jessica Eldridge (4th), Iowa State’s Lisa Koll (7th) and Kansas State’s Liliani Mendez (15th).