MADISON, Wisc. – It wasn’t a third consecutive win, but it was perhaps an even more impressive day for junior Aaron Nelson, as the Walla Walla native cemented himself as a factor on a national level with a fourth-place finish at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational today. Nelson’s sensational day led the Husky men’s cross country squad to a 15th-place finish, while the fourth-ranked women’s team was ninth behind a top-25 effort from Katie Flood.
In the largest of the NCAA regular season and the most-talented outside of the NCAA Championships, Nelson proved that his wins at the Sundodger Invite and the Bill Dellinger Invite were no flukes. After saying earlier in the week that he would not be afraid to run in the lead pack and see where he finished, Nelson followed through on those words, sitting in the top-30 through the first half of the 8,000-meter race, and then closing with a flourish, running up through the top-10 to finish fourth in 23-minutes, 26-seconds. That was fourteen seconds behind Kemoy Campbell of Arkansas who won in 23:12. Last year Nelson finished 154th in this same race.
Husky Head Coach Greg Metcalf said whatever adjective he could think of wouldn’t suffice for Nelson’s performance. “On the big stage, it’s as good a performance by a Husky men’s distance runner as I can remember,” said Metcalf. “Aaron ran fantastic; incredibly smart, patient, his last 3k he was running past some of the best distance runners in America.”
The Dawgs finished 15th in the final tally out of the 35 teams in attendance, which featured 20 of the top-30 teams in the country. The Huskies scored 428 points, just behind 28th-ranked Notre Dame, but finishing ahead of eight higher-ranked teams including No. 12 Indiana, No. 14 Texas, No. 30 Arizona State, No. 27 Dartmouth, No. 26 Florida, No. 22 Minnesota, No. 24 Georgetown, and No. 21 UCLA, as well as Air Force and Michigan State which were receiving votes.
The Husky women won this meet in 2011 and finished fourth last year, so today’s ninth-place finish was not what they were hoping for, but UW still will earn a lot points which puts the team in a position of strength for NCAA qualification. The Dawgs were ninth with 308 points, with Arizona winning with 117. UW finished ahead of eight ranked teams including 10th-ranked San Francisco, 15th-ranked Cornell, No. 17 Duke, No. 24 Boston College, No. 25 Vanderbilt, No. 26 BYU, No. 29 Texas, and 30th-ranked Notre Dame.
Flood’s 23rd-place finish was tops on the team. She covered the 6,000-meter course in 20:15. Sophomore Maddie Meyers was the No. 2 Husky in 47th-place in 20:37, just ahead of freshman Amy-Eloise Neale who was 50th in 20:39. Neale led the Huskies at the Dellinger two weeks ago but had a tougher time today with the huge field and her first 6k distance.
After missing the Dellinger meet two weeks ago, senior Justine Johnson was critical to the Husky effort today as she was 81st overall in 20:57. Freshmen Kaylee Flanagan and Katie Knight finished up side by side, with Flanagan getting the final scoring spot in 107th-place and Knight finishing 109th. Sophomore Baylee Mires finished the top-seven, as she finished her first ever 6k in 21:31, finishing 157th in a field of nearly 300. Senior Liberty Miller and sophomore Eleanor Fulton had tough days as they finished 185th and 194th, respectively.
“Our women came here to win a cross country race and obviously that didn’t happen, so we can have a much better day and we will,” said Metcalf. “It was the first really big meet for some of our youngsters and I thought we just didn’t go out and engage in the race and challenge the Arizona and Arkansas runners.”
Following Nelson on the men’s squad was sophomore Meron Simon who had maybe his best big meet performance according to Metcalf, as he was 84th overall in 24:15. Sophomore Izaic Yorks suited up for the first time today and came through third on the team in 91st-place in 24:18. Junior Aaron Beattie then crossed in 122nd and freshman Andrew Gardner capped the team scoring in 137th-place in 24:32.
Redshirt freshman Blake Nelson had a nice top-seven finish for the Huskies; he was 167th in the huge field in 24:42. Sophomore Tyler King finished at 188th to round out the top-seven. Also running was freshman Sumner Goodwin, who was 222nd overall and sophomore Jacob Smith who was 225th.
Last season the Huskies were 22nd at Wisconsin and ended up just off the NCAA bubble, so the improved finish may help come November.
“Our men’s team as a while, we were close to a very good day, we got something out of today for sure,” Metcalf said.
The “regular season” is now already at an end for the Husky cross country teams, and the next race on the schedule begins the “championship season” as UW heads to Colorado for the Pac-12 Championships on Nov. 2.