Women ready for first-ever Big Ten tile

By Erin Foley

Ranked No. 6 in the nation, head coach Karven Harvey calls this year’s women’s cross country team the best team Illinois has ever put on the line.

“We are just so head and shoulders above everything we did last year,” she said.

On Sunday, Illinois will compete for its first-ever Big Ten title in St. Paul, Minn., looking to seek revenge on defending Big Ten champion Michigan.

Illinois came in second to Michigan at the 2004 Big Ten meet and has not been able to overcome them in two earlier meets this season – the Notre Dame Invite on Sept. 30 and the Pre-National Meet on Oct. 15. The Illini lost to Michigan at Notre Dame by only five points.

In order to upset No. 3 Michigan, Harvey said Illinois “must race the way I know we can race.”

“Everyone has to have a good race, everyone wants to contribute and have a good race, and they know that; that’s what Big Ten’s all about,” Harvey said.

Illinois will be led by juniors Cassie Hunt and Stephanie Simms. The Illini will also get team points from sophomores Katie Coppin and Maggie Carroll and freshman Katie Engel; they will race nine total runners. At the 2004 meet, three Illini took home All-Big Ten honors: Hunt, Jaime Turrilli and Carroll, finishing fifth, sixth and tenth, respectively.

Harvey said the ultimate goal is for the team to “fire on all cylinders,” something the Illini have failed to do in earlier meets.

“The ultimate goal is that we race the way I know we can race,” Harvey said. “We’ll be looking to go for the title. This is going to be one of the best Big Ten meets I’ve ever seen; it’s incredible. It’s going to be very tight.”

Aside from Michigan, the Illini will be challenged by No. 11 Minnesota and No. 23 Michigan State, who she said will be very hungry, as well.

For Harvey, though, she knows she has prepared the team to the best of her ability. In practice they have focused on “turning our legs over, picking up the pace; we have a better fitness level than two weeks ago at Pre-Nationals,” she said.

One of the biggest things that sets this team aside from the other women’s cross country teams of the past, according to Harvey, is pride.

“They are very proud,” she said, “and very proud of the program that they have built from the ground up.”