Women look for strong team finish

By Sharon Steed

Women’s cross country began its season Saturday at the Redbird Challenge in Bloomington, Ill., The Illini finishing second behind the Illinois State Redbirds. The Illini ran their ‘B’ team, which included six freshmen. Sophomore Michelle LaMantia finished first among Illinois runners and sixth overall, with a 4K time of 15:27.

Though this year’s team is young, with only three seniors and one junior, head coach Karen Harvey said this team has more experience and talent than those of previous years.

“The team is bigger and better (than last year’s team),” Harvey said. “Last year, we were one of the best teams Illinois has ever seen and this year we’re going to be better.”

Harvey is impressed with this year’s team and the progress it has made so far in practices.

“The workouts early have been going great,” she said. “They are way ahead of what they were last year.”

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Because the team has so many strong runners, Harvey said it has been difficult identifying the top group. True freshman Maggie Carroll, sophomore Stephanie Simms, seniors Lindsey Reu, Jaime Turilli and Tabitha Volling and returning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Cassie Hunt should all have good seasons.

That list will get longer when two runners return from injuries. Sophomore Sammie Polock placed seventh at last year’s Bradley Open but was sidelined for the remainder of the season with an injury. Freshman Sara Fassbinder also is injured. Both Polock and Fassbinder could shake up the top spots when they return.

“When they get in shape and they come full steam, they are going to be good,” Harvey said.

Hunt, who qualified for the NCAA Championships last year, said this year she hopes the team finishes in the top four of the Big Ten and qualifies for NCAA Regionals as a team.

“We were third at regionals (last year), just missed going to the NCAA (Championships), so we’d like to get first or second and qualify for NCAA as a team,” Hunt said.

Hunt and Turilli want to help their team but also look to fulfill personal goals.

“Individually, I want to stay healthy and continue to improve over all the races,” Turilli said.

Hunt agreed and added that individually, they both wanted to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

“Once you get to Regionals, you want your team to do well and you want to help out your team, but we still have to watch out for our own positions to make sure that we get to the NCAA (Championships).”