Junior runner removed minutes before race

The Illinois men´s cross country team races on Saturday morning at the Arborteum. Claire Napier

The Illinois men´s cross country team races on Saturday morning at the Arborteum. Claire Napier

By Erik Hall

Saturday morning, junior Jason Bill dressed to run in the men’s cross country race. He warmed up with the team at the Arboretum.

But Bill did not race at Saturday’s Pack-It-Up Challenge.

“It was just a race-time decision,” Bill said. “We didn’t feel like it was worth it today. We decided to wait until (the Roy) Griak (Invitational), when it really counts.”

Illinois travels to the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis for a Sept. 25 meet.

Senior Kris Cunningham won Saturday’s four-mile race in an intrasquad competition for the men’s cross country team.

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“Just before the race, Jason was feeling a little sore and with his ab history, we didn’t want to do anything stupid,” Cunningham said. “There’s not a reason to run him hard today and have him be feeling it and get hurt.”

In 2002, Bill was the only freshman in the country to qualify for the NCAA Championships as an individual. He was Illinois’ first freshman to qualify as an individual since Craig Virgin in 1973.

Last season, Bill started the season strong and earned Big Ten Runner of the Week after Illinois’ first meet. When Illinois hosted its meet at the Arboretum last October, Bill started having a side stitch problem that slowed him significantly for the final two meets.

“I don’t want to go back to last season. But last season, I had that problem – some tightness in my right side where gradually when I started racing it would hurt,” Bill said. “This year it’s not a problem. I’m not too worried about it; I think I’ll be fine. It hasn’t hurt for a year and I don’t plan on it hurting again this year.”

Junior Jon Houseworth ran a fever early in the week and did not run in the meet. Houseworth said he felt fine Saturday, and it was just a precaution not to run.

Illinois runners needed a top five finish to ensure head coach Paul Pilkington will consider running them at the Griak Invitational. Illinois’ top seven runners will run Sept. 25 with Bill’s and Houseworth’s spots virtually locked up.

The top five finishers Saturday were Cunningham, junior Eric Wallor, sophomore Trent Hoerr, freshman Maciej Sniegorski and redshirt freshman Tim Kelly.

A top five finish does not guarantee anyone a trip to Minneapolis.

“We’ll work some stuff out because I’m still going to look at taking (redshirt freshman Dan Stock),” Pilkington said. “I didn’t race him because of the heat thing last week. Stock was running with Eric (Wallor) last week. As long as he’s healthy and back to 100 percent, I’ll look at possibly taking him.”

Wallor, Hoerr and Sniegorski each dropped off from a pack of four runners Saturday, which allowed Cunningham to win his final race on Illinois’ campus.

Hoerr and Sniegorski stopped 100 meters before the finish because they were confused where their race ended. Wallor and Cunningham kept running, but 10 feet before the finish, Wallor pulled back to let Cunningham cross the line first.

“A class act move by Wallor by letting me get my win as a senior,” Cunningham said.

None of Illinois’ top four runners finished under 20 minutes. They could have completed Saturday’s four-mile race in less than 20 minutes, but Pilkington told the quartet not to race each other the final 1,000 meters.

“We had a pack of Maciej, Wallor, me and Trent,” Cunningham said. “We came in here as the stronger guys and trying to test ourselves to see where we’re at for Griak. Us four, we looked good. We all felt good. I think we’re ready to roll in a couple weeks.”

Women’s Cross country

Augustana had no chance against the Illinois women’s cross country team the way the Illini ran Saturday. Illinois had the first nine finishers and won 15-50 over the Vikings.

“I definitely thought our top three ran amazing,” said women’s head coach Karen Harvey. “We had huge (personal records) up front. I believe Stephanie (Simms), Tabitha (Volling) and Maggie (Carroll) all had a P.R. by 10 or 20 seconds. That is amazing.”

Simms won Saturday’s five-kilometer race in a time of 18 minutes, 6 seconds. Volling followed in second with a time of 18:21. Carroll took a close third with a time of 18:25.

Harvey rested some of her top runners Saturday. Simms, Volling and Carroll were the only runners Harvey allowed to compete that she expects to be among her top seven runners.

“Today we didn’t show what we really have,” Harvey said. “I’m hiding the lions. That’s what I keep saying. I’m not going to unleash them until October 1st. No one knows how good we’re going to be.”

Illinois’ next meet comes Oct. 1 when it runs the Pre-Regional Meet in Peoria, Ill.