In its first cross country meet of the season, Nebraska saw all-around improvement from last year at the Big Ten Championships. The men’s team finished fifth, the women’s finished ninth and Kusche won the men’s race, becoming the first Husker to win an individual title in the Big Ten Championships.
The Huskers finally returned to official competition at the event after the fall season was postponed. Last year, Nebraska finished sixth for the men and 10th for women with their top finisher being junior George Kusche who took 2nd in the men's 8,000-meter race.
The top finisher for the women’s team was senior Erika Freyhof, who finished in sixth place overall. This marked Freyhof’s best finish at the Big Ten Championships. Freyhof’s career-best performance also marked the best finish ever for a female Husker at the Big Ten Championships, the previous best being Anna Peer’s 14th-place finish in 2014.
Following Freyhof was junior Grace Pagone (21:55.6) in 53rd, freshman Brynna McQuillen (22:02.2) in 57th, freshman Taya Skelton (22:26.2) in 73rd and senior Emma Bresser (22:30.9) in 77th to round out Nebraska’s top five.
On the men’s side, Kusche won the 8,000-meter race with a time of 24:01.2. He’s the seventh Husker to be crowned individual conference champion, the last one being Jonah Kiptarus who won the Big 12 Championship back in 1996. Behind Kusche in the Huskers’ top five were junior Dais Malebana (24:33.8) in 19th, senior Ryan Martins (24:38.6) in 22nd, junior Bailey Timmons (24:57.3) in 35th and senior Mark Freyhof (25:24.7) in 46th.
From the gun in the women’s 6,000-meter race, Freyhof got to the front of the pack and battled with Minnesota senior Bethany Hasz, Indiana junior Bailey Hertenstein and Ohio State junior Allie Guagenti throughout the race. As they passed the 4,000-meter mark, Freyhof dropped down to fourth and eventually sixth as she entered the final 1,000 meters. Despite the drop on the leaderboard, Freyhof finished the race with a new personal best time in the 6,000-meter at 20:41.2.
Pagone, Bresser, junior Audrey Freyhof (23:46.0) and sophomore Abby Volkmer (23:54.5) also set personal-bests.
In the men’s 8,000-meter race, Kusche went to the front of the pack and for a majority of the race, battled for it with Malebana. Malebana fell back near the 5,000-meter mark, but continued to keep his pace, and finished with his second-fastest 1,000-meter split in the race. With 2,000 meters left, Kusche began to push ahead with the lead as he built up space between him and the pack. The lead only grew for Kusche as he neared the final 1,000 meters with an eight-second lead. Illinois senior Jonathan Davis tried to close the gap as the two runners approached the finish line, but Kusche held him off and took the win.
Kusche’s finishing time is not his best at the meet in his career, as he ran a 23:57.8 last year to take second place. This is also 30 seconds slower than his all-time best in the 8,000-meters of 23:31.6, but was enough to take home the win.
As for personal bests, Martins and junior Sadio Fenner (26:27.8) both finished the 8,000-meter race with new best times.
The only other meet scheduled for this season is the NCAA Championship on March 15 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. According to an announcement by the NCAA, the team’s and individual’s performance at the Big Ten championship will determine whether or not they will qualify for the national championship. Kusche secured his individual spot with his first-place finish, but the status of any other individual and either team is uncertain.