Stock earns individual bid

By Erin Foley

Hoping to overcome a disappointing team performance at the Big Ten meet two weekends ago, the Illinois men’s cross country team came into Saturday’s NCAA Regional poised to redeem themselves.

Sophomore Dan Stock led the Illini in dominating fashion, earning an NCAA Championships atlarge berth after finishing in 19th-place overall with a time of 31:30 in the 10K race.

Stock became only the second Illini runner to earn an individual bid to Nationals in as many years. Senior Jason Bill, a redshirt this season, earned a spot in 2004 with a fourth-place finish.

“I’m very excited, I ran the race that I wanted to run on Saturday,” Stock said. “I approached it like it might be my last race of the season, I wanted to establish myself early to get a qualifying spot.”

After injuring a foot tendon a few days after the season-opening meet at Iowa on Sept. 2, Stock was not able to race again until the Pre-National Meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Oct. 15. At that meet, Stock finished first for the Illini with an 8K time of 24:52. Two weeks later at the Big Ten Championships, Stock grabbed his second first-place finish for the team. He finished with a time of 25:28 for the 8K race in 33rd place.

“Once I started getting back healthy, I knew it was a possibility. And if I ran a good race, I would make it,” Stock said.

Head coach Wendel McRaven said to be a good distance runner, it takes three important qualities: talent, motivation and competitiveness. Stock, he said, has a combination of all three.

“He does not like to be mediocre,” McRaven said of Stock. “His expectation is to be better than average.”

McRaven said Stock had the fitness level to stay strong with some of the top competition, and said he would not have told Stock to go out strong if he did not have confidence in him.

“He put himself in a good position up in the mix, and he hung tough when he got up there,” McRaven said.

McRaven said Stock’s split at the 6K of the Regional Meet was faster than his 6K performance at an earlier meet in the season, and the goal for the 8K Nationals race will be to be better than his 8K split at Pre-Nationals.

Stock said he has set up his goals the same way.

“I want to continue what I have been doing all year, which is to run tough and set the stage for next year,” he said.

As a team, the Illini finished seventh out of 30 teams, one place better than their eighth-place regional ranking. McRaven said the team had a goal of finishing in the top five.

Oklahoma State took first with 49 points, while Iowa took second with 72. Minnesota rounded out the top three with 77 points. The Illini finished with 198 points, just 15 points behind fifth-place Loyola Chicago, who earned an at-large bid to the National Championships on Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind.

Eighteen teams automatically qualified for Nationals, while 13 teams and 25 individuals not from a top-qualifying team were selected on Sunday to receive at-large bids from the Divison-I track and field subcommitte.

Following Stock in 36th place and 44th place for the Illini, were sophomores Maciej Sniegorski and Matt Flaherty, who finished with times of 32:20 and 32:32, respectively.

Senior Eric Wallor, who has been battling bronchitis, finished with a time of 32:35. McRaven said as the lone senior, this is not the way Wallor would have liked to end his season.

Looking to remove the bad taste in their mouths from the Big Ten Championships, the Illini were able to end their season on a positive note and compete better than they had at the Big Ten meet.

“I was pleased with how we executed our race and our race plan,” he said. “I have said that as long as we compete well and do what we are supposed to do, we will be able to live with (the results).”

McRaven feels with the experience his team gained this season, they will be even more prepared for the 2006 season, when their “heavy-hitting” trio returns after redshirting this year.

“With the redshirts from this season, high-level recruits and the guys we have on our team now, we want to start next season with how we are (competing) now,” McRaven said. “We want to be a consistent national-level program.”