April Likhite is entering her 11th overall season as head coach of the Northwestern cross country team. She was first at the helm from 1998-2001 when she resurrected NU's program after it endured a 10-year absence and returned in 2007 for her second stint as head coach.
Northwestern continues to grow as a program under Likhite's direction and in 2012 saw the results of increased talent and depth that Likhite has recruited to Evanston. Two weeks after placing seventh at the Big Ten Championships -- the best NU finish since 2002 -- Likhite's squad raised the bar even higher by posting a fourth-place showing at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships. The outcome was a continuation of NU's annual improvement at the meet, where the Wildcats jumped from 11th to fifth between 2010 and 2011.
On the individual side, Likhite in 2010 elevated an NU runner to the status of NCAA qualifier for the first time since 2002. Then-sophomore Audrey Huth placed 17th at the Regionals in Peoria and earned an individual berth to the NCAA Championships, also setting a school record (20:35.8) and receiving All-Region honors in the process.
Huth continued to grow into one of the region's best runners as a junior, placing 10th at the 2011 Big Ten Championships to earn All-Big Ten recognition and later in the season was joined by sophomore Lexie Goldsmith in attaining All-Region honors at the Midwest Regional Championships. Huth then broke her own school record in October, 2012, with a 20:19 6K effort at the Wisconsin Invitational, eventually graduating as the school's most successful runner in a decade.
One of Likhite's most important efforts as head coach has been her implementation of a rigorous and challenging spring track schedule, one that has allowed her team to challenge themselves against the top track programs in the region and nation during the cross country offseason. That includes annual trips to the prestigious Drake Relays in April, where Huth placed sixth in the 5K in 2011, and competitions hosted by Purdue, Notre Dame, Marquette and Wisconsin, among others.
Several of Likhite's runners also have been afforded the chance to gain experience running in the U.S. Cross Country Championships and other national meets. In 2011, Huth competed in the women's open division of the national race while Goldsmith and Michelle Moriset ran against their peers in the women's junior division. Both Huth and Goldsmith have gained additional international experience at the North American Canadian and Caribbean (NACAC) Championships in Tobago.
Academically, Likhite's program consistently ranks as one of the highest achieving teams at Northwestern, including 2011 when a program-record 19 NU runners earned Academic All-Big Ten honors. At least five members of the cross country program have been named Big Ten Distinguished Scholars -- an honor bestowed to student-athletes with at least a 3.7 GPA for the previous academic year -- each fall since 2011.
"I firmly believe that because Northwestern is a top-notch University and is part of the great city of Chicago, it is not only possible to be competitive within the Big Ten Conference, but to also be nationally competitive," Likhite said upon her return in 2007. "I am passionate about working with the young women who are currently part of the Northwestern cross country team and can't wait to see what they can achieve."
Since rejoining Northwestern in 2007, Likhite has also distinguished herself as an excellent recruiter. Likhite's 2010 freshman group featured 2009 Nike Cross Country Nationals qualifier and 17th-place finisher Michelle Moriset of Troy, Mich., while 2013 freshman Andrea Ostenso completed her high school career as the Gatorade Runner of the Year in Wisconsin before making an instant impact on the 'Cats in her first season.
During Likhite's first term as NU's head coach, she needed just three seasons to help Northwestern place fifth at the Big Ten Championships and fourth in the NCAA Regional meet, narrowly missing a bid to the NCAA Championships. That same year, Rachel Evjen became the first Wildcat in program history to qualify for the NCAA Individual Championships.
Head Coach April Likhite
Prior to her arrival in Evanston, Likhite was the head women's track and field coach and head men's and women's cross country coach at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She began her college coaching career at Alabama in 1995 where she served as an assistant coach for both men's and women's track and field and cross country.
As a student at Mississippi State, Likhite enjoyed a stellar cross country career. She was named Southeastern Conference Student-Athlete of the Year in 1995. She made the All-America cross country team in 1993 and was an All-SEC pick in 1992 and 1993.
She holds Mississippi State records in the 3,000-meter outdoor and 5,000-meter indoor and outdoor events. Likhite was named an Academic All-American in 1993, was a four-time Academic All-SEC honoree and was given the award as the top student-athlete at Mississippi State three straight years.
Before returning to Northwestern in 2007, Likhite spent six years teaching physical education and coaching cross country in several school districts in Detroit's suburbs.
Likhite graduated from Mississippi State in 1995 with a bachelor's degree in physical education and elementary education, and in 1997 received her master of arts degree in human performance/teacher education from the University of Alabama.
In 2010, Likhite was inducted into Green Bay Preble High School's Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the school's inaugural induction class. Likhite was a four-time all-state cross country honoree during her career and won a state championship in the 3,200-meter track race in 1989.
Likhite resides in Evanston with her husband Craig and their son Cade.