Women’s cross country takes fifth at Pre-National Meet

An Illinois led pack of runners run up a hill during the Pack-It-Up Challenge on Sept. 17 at the UI Arboretum. Illinois took first in the meet. Peter Hoffman

An Illinois led pack of runners run up a hill during the “Pack-It-Up” Challenge on Sept. 17 at the UI Arboretum. Illinois took first in the meet. Peter Hoffman

By Erin Foley

The women’s cross country team bettered its 11th place finish from a year ago at the Pre-National Meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday, finishing in fifth place overall and third in the White Race.

The Illini finished the 6k race with 117 points, behind Big Ten-rival Michigan and Arizona State. The race marked the second time this season that Illinois finished behind the Wolverines.

“It is hard,” sophomore Katie Coppin said of falling to Michigan, “but at the same time, we’re right up there. For Big Ten’s, we know what we have to do.”

In a pressure-filled race, with 34 teams and an estimated 200 runners, Harvey said, “the young team did well in the biggest field they would ever see.” Harvey did, however, say her team should have been able to beat Arizona State.

“None of these girls have gotten the notoriety before. It’s brand new. We are the new kids on the block,” Harvey said.

Illinois was led once again by juniors Cassie Hunt and Stephanie Simms, who finished in 11th and 14th places with times of 20:45 and 20:58, respectively. Simms destroyed her 6k personal best by 41 seconds.

In her first 6k race, Coppin had a career day for the Illini finishing with a time of 21:11, a new personal best, in 24th place.

“Katie loves surprising people, no one would have thought from her high school times that she would be at this level,” Harvey said. “She has a great head on her shoulders.”

Coppin said that her improvement in races has been the result of “pure, hard work.” Coppin, who has struggled with shin splints throughout her running career, said this is one of the first seasons she has not been bogged down by injuries.

“It’s a hump, but when you get over it, you have it,” Coppin said.

Freshman Katie Engel finished fourth for the Illini and 25th overall, as she made her way into the Illinois record books. Engel’s time of 21:12 was the best-ever time for an Illinois freshman in a 6k race. She broke previous record-holder Cassie Hunt’s mark by 17 seconds.

“Engel smashed the record, and she hasn’t peaked yet,” Harvey said. “She’s going to need to get faster, but she has turned into an incredible runner.”

The Illini’s third-place finish, though, was marked by a sub-par performance by a few runners, according to Harvey, who says that the Illini will most likely go down a place or two in the National Polls. Going into the Pre-National Meet, Illinois was ranked No. 5 in the NCAA FinishLynx polls and first in the Midwest in the WICCCA Regional Rankings.

Harvey gave her team a “B+” for its performance in Terre Haute, saying that Hunt and sophomore Maggie Carroll had “off days.”

“We cannot have two people run below par at this level,” she said.

The Illini continue to keep their focus on the Big 10 Championships on Oct. 30 in St. Paul, Minn. Coppin said that the team knows that they have to get more competitive in racing.

“Our theme this year is all together, tough together,” she said. “When one person steps it up, the rest of the team has to step it up.”