Teams set for Pre-National meet: Men ready for action

By Erin Foley

Head coach Wendel McRaven believes this Saturday’s Pre-National Qualifier in Terre Haute, Ind., will be a great opportunity to see where his team is now, calling it the final tuneup before the Big Ten meet.

Illinois will take on a field of the best 34 teams in the country.

“This is the best regular season cross country meet in the country, and it’s the best (competition) you can see all year long,” McRaven said. “We’ll see where we stack up.”

The Illini, currently ranked eighth in the Midwest Region, will look for their training to pay off in a setting that matters, according to McRaven.

Senior Eric Wallor, sophomores Maciej Sniegorski, Michael Kelly, Tim Kelly, Dan Stock, Matt Flaherty and freshman Tim Maier will compete for the Illini in the 11:40 a.m. seeded race. Wallor has led the Illini in each of their races this season, including a first-place overall finish at the “Pack-It-Up” Challenge on Sept. 17.

Stock will be racing for the first time since the Iowa Invite on Oct. 1 due to an injury, while Flaherty will be making his season debut after having surgery at the end of last season.

“I just want to get back where I left off,” Stock said. “This is the biggest race I’ve ever ran in before, so I’m excited.”

The Illini’s greatest competition will come in the form of 2004 NCAA Champion Colorado, along with Big Ten rivals, Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State. McRaven said there will be 10-15 nationally ranked teams in the Illini’s white race.

The Illini will have success in Indiana if they continue to run in packs and have a small spread between the number one and five runners, McRaven said.

Stock said the team has a goal of running around 25 minutes, which breaks down to five minutes a mile.

“It’s such a large field that we want to find orange and find teammates and contine moving up, instead of settling,” Stock said.

The test for Illinois will be to see if they can perform better than they did a year ago at this meet, and if they can, McRaven said it will be a positive step. The Illini’s focus on building fitness, group running and working on strengh will be the keys to their success.

Stock, who hopes to break 25 minutes, is ready for the challenge.

“We’re not worried,” Stock said. “We want to see what we have against the best teams in the nation.”