The Daily Illini

Cross country focused on team improvement

By Ashleigh Lefevre, Claire O'Brien, J.A. Pérez, Contributing writers


Women’s:

The Illinois women’s cross country team is set to attend its third meet of the season at the Loyola Lakefront International on Saturday.

Based in Chicago, the women’s collegiate race will begin at 11:30 a.m., marking the second edition of the event since 2012.

The No. 12 Illini are a young team; however, head coach Sarah Haveman attributes their youth to much of their success.

“We were able to gain a tremendous amount of experience last year,” Haveman said. “Bringing in a solid freshman class … we’re on the right track.”

Underclassmen have anchored the team in both of the meets thus far, with sophomore Allison McGrath leading the Illini to a fourth-place finish at the EIU Walt Crawford Open on Sept. 1.

The team finished second overall in the meet, behind Northwestern.

Freshman Madison Marasco finished 10th at the Vanderbilt Commodore Classic on Sept. 15 to anchor Illinois. The team finished second overall again — this time finishing behind Ohio State.

Marasco credited her personal success to both a strong team culture and a great training environment.

“When we’re in practice, everyone builds everyone else up,” the Marasco said. “During a race, when it gets tough, it’s good to have someone encourage you and be there for you.”

Having made some longer distance runs as well as some recovery jogs in preparation for the weekend, Marasco feels as if the team’s training has put them in good stead ahead of the 5000-meter race.

“It’s a big change from practice to a race performance, but we’re focusing on mechanics to prepare for Loyola on Saturday,” Marasco said.

Another element helping the Illini is geography. With the solid majority of the team hailing from Chicago or its suburbs, Loyola is a virtual backyard meet.

“Racing in Chicago is going to affect us positively,” explained Marasco, excited to be heading home. “A lot of family and friends are going to come out and support.”

Heading into the Loyola Lakefront Invitational, the team has been bolstered by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s regional rankings, and Haveman is confident in her team’s abilities.

“Come race day, we go into it with the same strategy that we have in practice,” Haveman said. “Maybe we’ll have a home-field advantage, but we’re going to try and shake things up.”

Men’s:

Unlike the women’s the team, the men’s squad is coming off a disappointing outing at the Commodore Classic two weeks ago. The team will look to bounce back at the upcoming Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational this Friday in Madison at the University of Wisconsin.

“For Wisconsin, it’s basically just going out and competing as best as we can,” said senior runner Billy Magnesen. “This is a lot of the guys’ first time running there, so it will be a really good learning experience for them.”

Based on the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national coaches poll, 18 of the top 30 teams will be there, including No. 31 ranked Michigan.

Also, three of the top five teams in the country are going to be competing, including No. 1 Northern Arizona, No. 3 Portland and No. 5 Iowa State.

“It will definitely be a step up from what we’ve seen so far — we are going to thrive off of that, and usually the more competition you have the faster you run,” said freshman runner Logan Hall. “It will be tough but good for us.”

With the pre-nationals coming up on Oct. 13, the meet will look closer to what the team could see in the future.

The Illini had finished 6th place out of 14 in Nashville at the Commodore Classic, and while the final placement wasn’t what the team wanted, the early season showing hasn’t come without some positives.

“A lot of freshmen stepped up and ran really well … there’s been a lot of really exciting things from the younger guys and that really showed,” said Magnesen.

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