Illini looks to bounce back at Regionals

By Erin Foley

The Illini will look to put their 10th-place finish two weekends ago at the Big Ten meet behind them when they compete in the NCAA Midwest Regional on Saturday.

Illinois, ranked eighth in its region, would need to finish in the top two in order to automatically qualify for a team berth in the NCAA Championships. The top four runners not on a qualifying team will automatically qualify.

Head coach Wendel McRaven hopes that his team will be able to finish higher than the regional ranking it has entering the race in Iowa City.

“First and foremost, we want to establish the mindset of coming into the meet to do well at the end of the postseason,” McRaven said.

Illinois will be racing against 30 teams, among them some of the best teams in the region. The Illini will take on the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Iowa.

After racing against 34 teams at the Pre-National meet, the Illini have the experience necessary to race against hundreds of runners.

“The Pre-Nationals and the Lakefront (Invitational) provided more of a similar simulation, without a doubt,” McRaven said. “It’s an opportunity to see where we stack up.”

Sophomore Dan Stock is expected to lead Illinois and should be closely followed by senior Eric Wallor, who is recovering from bronchitis. Stock ran a season-best time of 24:52 at the Pre-National meet on Oct. 15 in Terre Haute, Ind.

Senior Jason Bill, who is redshirting the 2005 season, was the last Illini runner in 2004 to qualify for an individual NCAA Championship bid. Bill finished the race with a time of 30:24, in fourth-place.

“Dan Stock can put himself in the position of the top-15 or top-20 and Eric Wallor can put himself in a similar position,” McRaven said. “Wallor is definitely closing on the way he was (before being sick).”

Sophomores Matt Flaherty and Maciej Sniegorski are also expected to challenge Stock and Wallor in the standings.

While the Illini will be going up against top-ranked competition, McRaven said he wants his team to finish in the top five. They have a legitimate shot, he said, of beating Loyola, Missouri and Drake, the three teams directly above them in the rankings.

He also said he wants this race to prove the potential the team has had the entire season.

For the future, McRaven said he has the hope that Illinois will be a team with National Championship hopes. Senior Jon Houseworth and junior Trent Hoerr, along with Bill, will be back for the Illini next season. All three redshirted this season. McRaven said the goal is for his team next year to do great things as upperclassmen, and not as new runners.

“As time goes on, we want to get better in this atmosphere,” McRaven said. “(The race) will give us valuable experience for the future and a chance for us to redeem ourselves.”