After sweeping their way through the Missouri Valley Conference Championship two weeks ago, the Bradley men’s and women’s cross country teams will host the NCAA Midwest Regional meet today.
Bradley has hosted regional meets in the past, but the journey to host this season’s started with a bid three years ago.
“The bidding process opens up and then each school from the region has a chance to put a bid in,” head coach Darren Gauson said. “Two years ago, we got accepted to host [in 2018]. We’re excited about hosting.”
The meet will be held at Newman Golf Course in Peoria, a familiar course for the Braves, who train there regularly and have already hosted two races there this season.
“Course familiarity gives you an advantage over other teams,” freshman Tyler Schwartz, a member of the women’s team, said. “We know where the best tangents are, the best way to approach a hill, and where the markers are to know how much you have left. It’s also a blessing to host home meets because we don’t have to worry about traveling or getting out of our pre-race routine.”
Both the men and women have had a lot of success competing at Neuman this season.
“The men have not lost on this course this year,” Gauson said. “The women won conference here and ran well at the Pink Classic. We’ve trained on the actual course the last few weeks, and we’ve been out here all year, so they’re very familiar with … where they are on the course, the ups and the downs, and the strategical part of running the course.”
The course will not be the only familiar aspect of the race for Bradley, the weather forecast shows a high of 37 degrees with a 50 percent chance for snow, very similar to the Pink Classic race hosted by Bradley earlier this season.
“At the Pink Classic it was just a mudbath and we all performed then,” senior Haran Dunderdale said. “Who knows what’s going to happen. You just have to deal with it and not get too frustrated.”
The women’s field is set to feature 35 teams for the 6K race. The top three are Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Minnesota. Bradley enters the race ranked 11th in the region.
“I think the region is a lot stronger on the women’s side this year than what it was last year,” Gauson said. “Really between [spots] 5-11 there’s not much between them so we could finish as high as we did last year [sixth] or higher. Hopefully we’re on the higher side rather than the lower side.”
Schwartz posted her personal record in the MVC Championship finishing fourth, just seconds behind Gabby Juarez who finished third, and will look to continue her success today.
“I’m excited to race Regionals, but also very nervous,” Schwartz said. “There are so many good schools and individuals who will all be racing for the same thing, qualifying to Nationals. All I can do is just go out there and give it all I have left.”
The men’s field will feature 31 teams for the 10K race, the top four of which are Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Tulsa and Bradley.
“Typically, our 10K is a little more patient early in the race, so that will give us an opportunity to be in a good position and compete rally hard over the second half,” Gauson said. “We’ve competed against a bunch of regional schools that were here for the Pink Classic so running really well at conference will give us great momentum, and we want to use that going into regionals.”
Dunderdale said that even though the team didn’t put together their best collective performance against the top regional teams in the past due to some injuries and drop outs, the Braves are prepared for the regional and will run at full strength.
“We were trained to peak for this race,” Dunderdale said. “I don’t feel as if the results [when racing these teams in the past] were representative of where we’re at now as a program. We’re so much closer than that day suggested.”
In order to automatically qualify for the national meet, Bradley will have to finish in the top two at the Midwest Regional as a team. After the 18 automatic qualifiers are determined, 13 teams will receive at-large bids, which are determined by regional finishes and regular season performances.
Individuals can also qualify for the national meet if they aren’t part of a qualifying team. In that case the NCAA selects the top four finishers from each region from non-qualifying teams if they finish in the top-25 of the region.
“I think [hosting the meet] it gives us quite a big advantage,” Gauson said. “We’re going to use that advantage on Friday and hopefully it will propel the men to big things, at least a top four finish, and for the women as well another big top-ten finish would be awesome.”
The women’s 6K race will start at 11 a.m. today, followed by the men’s 10K race at noon at Newman Golf Course.