Illinois women run into history

By Sharon Steed

Rarely will everyone on a team have a great performance on the same day. But women’s cross country took its seven best runners to NCAA Regionals this weekend – and all seven ran great races, clearing a huge hurdle by qualifying for Nationals as a team for the first time in the program’s history.

“We had seven people run well,” head coach Karen Harvey said. “Six people ran (personal records).”

One of the big stories of the weekend was sophomore Cassie Hunt, who not only won the meet and broke the previous school record, which she set, but also broke the course record.

“She went to win,” Harvey said. “She ran hard but she still has another big race inside of her.”

Hunt’s time of 20:21 broke the school record of 20:28, which she set at the Pre-National Meet. Hunt was excited about her performance but kept the focus on the team accomplishment.

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    “That was the goal, to make Nationals from the very beginning,” she said. “We’re very, very excited.”

    Following Hunt was senior captain Jaime Turilli, who finished seventh overall with a time of 20:48 – beating her previous time of 21:04 she set at Pre-Regionals. Harvey believes there are bigger things in store for both of them.

    “Cassie and Jaime have a chance to be All-American. I think that’s a fair statement for those girls,” Harvey said.

    The next runner was freshman Rachel Hernandez, who is having a standout first season.

    “She ran hard the entire race. She never looked comfortable; she was tough the entire way,” Harvey said. As a freshman walk-on who was not heavily recruited and almost quit the team during camp, contributing to a team at this level is phenomenal, Harvey said.

    Hernandez took it all in stride, going into the race trying to keep her nerves in check and the team goal in mind.

    “I’m usually behind Maggie and Stephanie (Simms) and when I saw that Maggie was struggling, I knew I had to step up,” she said. “We all had one goal in mind and we did what it took to get that.”

    Freshman Maggie Carroll and sophomore Stephanie Simms rounded out the scorers, finishing 28th and 32nd respectively at 21:20 and 21:38. Harvey said the big race out of Simms, along with Hunt, was huge for the team.

    “Two of the big keys to this race were Cassie and Stephanie,” she said. “They had off days at Big Tens and were really upset about it. Having then come back and run so well shows they have a lot of character.”

    Though this is the first time women’s cross country has qualified for Nationals, Hunt said she knows what it will take to compete well.

    “We have two more weeks and we have to get our head back in the game for Nationals,” she said.

    Hernandez summed up the feeling of the program.

    “People are saying we’re the best women’s cross country team in program history, the first time the entire team is going to Nationals,” Hernandez said. “I think we’re ready.”