Illini square off against top teams

Shira Weissman

Shira Weissman

By Sharon Steed

Saturday’s Pre-National meet will be the first real challenge of the season for the Illini women’s cross country team. The team will not only face other Big Ten competition, but ranked teams from across the nation.

This is the first true test of the season for the Illini, and head coach Karen Harvey knows they will rise to the occasion. She said her runners will shine tomorrow, especially senior captain Jaime Turilli and sophomore Cassie Hunt.

“I definitely think Jaime and Cassie have an opportunity to run in the top 10 or 20,” she said. “They are finally going to be pushed. I think they’ll have fun with that.”

Hunt has won the past two meets and Turilli has finished not far behind her. Hunt knows this meet will give her more of a challenge than in previous weeks.

“The last two races I haven’t really ran against anybody,” she said. “I’m looking forward to that competition. It’s really exciting.”

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    Harvey expects the team to perform well against the steep competition. She believes the Illini are better than their national ranking – 35 – and hopes to break the top 20 after this meet.

    “I know for a fact we’re better than our ranking,” she said. “If three of our runners can stay close together, then we’ll beat a lot of teams.”

    Other than Hunt and Turilli, seniors Lindsey Reu, Tabitha Volling, sophomore Stephanie Simms, freshmen Rachel Hernandez and Maggie Carroll will compete this Saturday. Sophomores Lisa Phillips and Michelle LaMantia will compete as alternates.

    Carroll’s first season has been an accomplished one with her finishing among the top Illini in every race.

    Carroll comes from a small town where her cross-country team consisted of 13 runners from two different schools. She, like Hernandez, needed more of a challenge so she did a lot of training with the boy’s team.

    “In high school, I always ran with the boys, so I was always part of a team, but I still considered my girls my team too. But when I trained, I had to train with the boys just to train with somebody else who challenged me,” she said. “But down here it’s nice, just because I’m running with girls and you’re more competitive out there.”

    Carroll said she knows coming to Illinois has improved her running extensively. She saw the difference in her speed almost immediately.

    “In high school I felt like I was training to my highest potential, but coming down here and running times I’ve never even ran is amazing,” she said. During her week of practice, Carroll set a performance record for her three-mile. She is finding motivation she did not know she had.

    “I don’t know where it comes from – if it’s (coach Harvey) or if it’s the whole atmosphere,” she said. “It’s just very rewarding and you feed off if it. You’re going good, so you think ‘Oh I can try and do better.'”

    Harvey sees what Carroll is doing and shares her same enthusiasm and shock. She nicknamed the freshman ‘Miss Consistency’ early on for her constant superior performance, which shows during practices and in competition.

    “A lot of people focus on Jaime and Cassie and they deserve that, but Maggie is running the same times as Cassie was last year,” she said. “They may run even faster than Cassie did.”

    Carroll had no idea she would come to college and have this large of an impact at such an early point in her career. But she said she takes it in stride and just hopes to continue to compete well.

    “I’m hoping just to better my time and to have a good race, to feel good when I’m out there running and be challenged,” she said. “My goal is to get into a race where there are people all around you and just pick up one more person. That’s another point for your teammates.”