Illini optimistic after Pre-National Meet

By Erin Foley

Despite a 23rd-place finish at the Pre-National Meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday, head coach Wendel McRaven said many positives could be drawn from the meet, including an improved finish from last year.

Sophomore Dan Stock, in his first full 8k of his collegiate career and his first race since the season-opener Oct. 1 in Iowa City, led the way for the Illini, finishing with a time of 24:52, coming in 69th place.

“I was really pleased with the leadership Dan provided up front,” McRaven said.

Senior Eric Wallor was also quick to offer praise for his teammate.

“Dan Stock ran an awesome race,” he said. “He got out there right away, which was part of coach’s plan, and just kept slowly moving up; he ran a good time.”

Stock said the key to his race was “that he felt so good and strong in the last half of the race.”

“I was definitely pleased,” Stock said. “I just went out there and ran up to my fitness level.”

Wallor, who said he suffered from congestion before the race, finished in 109th with a time of 25:17, while sophomore Maciej Sniegorski finished three seconds later in 116th place.

Although Wallor felt ill the morning of the race, McRaven said a healthy Wallor could be within 10 seconds of Stock in any race.

“That’s what’s nice about those two (Wallor and Stock), they are interchangeable,” McRaven said. “We could have four runners capable of finishing within 10 seconds, and that is not a stretch of the imagination.”

Sniegorski is racing better each time out, McRaven said. He has been steadily improving since last year, and McRaven feels he has the capability on any given day to be the Illini’s No. 1-runner.

“He is very talented and he has got the ability, but I know he has more in the tank,” McRaven said.

Rounding out the first five for the Illini was sophomore Matt Flaherty – who made his season debut after having emergency stomach surgery last year – with a time of 25:26.

Although Flaherty ran a conservative race, he is “building his base back up,” which will give him confidence, McRaven said. Freshman Tim Maier finished with a 25:46 in 159th place.

While the Illini’s top-five runners finished within one minute of each other, which McRaven said is decent, he knows for the Illini to be successful at the Big Ten meet, runners must close the gap between the numbers one through five runners.

“The way we’ve been training, we should be much closer than we were,” McRaven said. “In training, we’re moving to a phase more race-specific so they will be fresh for races. We’ll see as we back down the volume how people race.”

Illinois placed 23rd out of 34 teams, piling up 575 points in the White Race, opposed to first-place Colorado’s 70 points. Notre Dame was second with 96 points, while Florida was third with 152.

The Illini’s finish, though, was one place higher than 2004’s finish. That fact especially stands out, since then-junior Jason Bill, who is redshirting this season, finished in fourth place last year at the Pre-National Meet.

Bill, along with junior Trent Hoerr and senior Jon Houseworth, are redshirting this season.

“We lost some heavy-hitters and still finished one place better,” McRaven said. “But we’re still capable of much better.”

While McRaven says that the Illini have “no Jason Bill or Trent Hoerr leading the charge,” they will still be able to use this season for improvement.

The Illini will take a week off before racing again at the Big Ten Championships in St. Paul, Minn., on Oct. 15.

“To reach the level we want to be at, we’re going to have to experience the pressure,” McRaven said. “It bodes well for us in the future.”

In preparation for the race in Minnesota, Wallor said the Illini would be focusing their attention on hill workouts, while Stock said that the team goal will be to have three or four runners finishing in less than 25 minutes.

“It’s time to step it up,” Wallor said, “run some PR’s (personal records) and have people race.”