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Judi Jones (324) runs at Mahoney Golf Course for the Greeno/Dirksen Invite on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

It’s been a hard-fought season by the Huskers cross country team, and both the men’s and  women’s teams are each looking to make a statement at the Big Ten Conference Championship in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday, Nov. 3. 

With four meets under their belts, the Huskers are ready to start the busy month of November where the conference meet, regionals and the national championship all lie ahead. Each meet is crucial, and the team is ready for the final month of the season.

“The conference meet is the most important team meet of the year,” head coach David Harris said. “We want to represent Nebraska. We were eighth last year, and I feel like we have our best team that we’ve had, but this conference isn’t getting any easier.”

The Big Ten has eight teams ranked in the top 25 nationally for women and four teams ranked in the top 25 for men. The Huskers are ready for the steep competition coming off pre-nationals nearly two weeks ago. 

“At pre-nationals, we saw some of the best teams in the country,” Harris said. “We got in the elite race for the men and took 15th, which is the best we’ve ever done at this meet since joining the Big Ten.”

The team overall has been building on each meet with faster times and higher finishes. The women didn’t run in the elite division at pre-nationals, but they took third in the B-division despite a competitive field. With a total of 26 teams running, the women ran their race with junior Erika Freyhof and seniors Judi Jones and Elsa Forsberg leading the way. 

“They’re solid,” Harris said. “I don’t have to worry about them. They do their work. They come to race and compete every day, and we count on them.”

Freyhof, Jones and Forsberg have been the top three runners for the Huskers since the first meet of the season. The three have always finished within the same minute of each other, which has been a key factor in the team’s scores this season. The women finished in the top four in the first two invites of the season, along with a dual meet win. Considering their performance at pre-nationals, Freyhof, Jones and Forsberg’s prospects on Sunday are looking good. 

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Erika Freyhof (315) runs at Mahoney Golf Course for the Greeno/Dirksen Invite on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“It’s a cliche, one meet at a time,” Harris said. “We go with the 14-day routine, and right now, it’s time to go to the conference meet. It means everything. It’s where we represent Nebraska.”

As for the men’s team, they finished 15th at pre-nationals out of 38 teams, but the scores don’t reflect the team’s progress. Within the 8k, the distance for the conference race, the men have improved astoundingly, with seven runners earning a season best time at pre-nationals. The most notable one was the dominant sophomore George Kusche, who has one of the fastest times in the conference at 23:31.6. Kusche is a high-caliber runner for the men’s team as he won the Greeno/Dirksen Invite earlier this year and placed fifth at pre-nationals. Now, he’s looking to take the conference crown.

“He’s one of the most elite runners in the nation right now,” Harris said. “He’s put the work in, and he’s been very relaxed through most of the race with top runners in the country. He is our front runner, and having a front runner is an exceptional thing to have for a team, and he has a very big shot at winning the conference.”

The team didn’t face much of the conference at first, only going up against Iowa in the second meet of the season. It wasn’t until pre-nationals where the Huskers got a small taste of the Big Ten as they competed against Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota. 

“The schedule really built itself,” Harris said. “We saw great competition at Greeno/Dirksen, and pre-nationals was everything I wanted. Competing against really good competition is what we needed. It’s prepared us for the meets we have left on the schedule.”

The conference championship race will begin at 9:45 a.m. with the men’s race, followed by the women’s race at 10:45 a.m., and will be televised live on BTN Plus.

sports@dailynebraskan.com