Women look to make history at Nationals

By Erin Foley

When the Illinois women’s cross country team competes in Monday’s NCAA Championships, they will be looking to make history.

Last year, Illinois completed its most successful season in school history with a final ranking of 20th. After a tie for second place at last weekend’s NCAA Midwest Regional, the Illini will be looking for redemption.

At the back of the runners’ minds, head women’s cross country coach Karen Harvey said, is getting over regionals. At practice this week, Harvey said she put a big poster in the locker room that said, “Finish with a bang.”

“That is all we want,” Harvey said. “That is all we expect.”

Harvey said if the team runs like it did at the Pre-National Meet in Terre Haute, Ind., and at the Big Ten Meet in St. Paul, Minn., on Oct. 30, they will be able to earn an impressive finish and walk away with two All-Americans. The top 30 runners, excluding foreign individuals, will earn the honor.

“Regionals was a fluke and it is behind us now,” Harvey said. “If we run like we were, I can guarantee a top-10 finish.”

The Illini will once again be led by Big Ten Athlete of the Year Cassie Hunt and junior Stephanie Simms. While the two had sub-par performances at Regionals, they will look to get back to their Big Ten-meet form.

Hunt captured a Big Ten title, finishing with a time of 21:00.54. Simms finished in fourth place, just one-tenth of a second out of third, with a time of 21:11.

The Illini should also earn valuable points from the third and fourth Illini runners. Harvey said Big Ten Freshman of the Year Katie Engel and sophomore Katie Coppin have been surprising her all year long, and if they run as well as they did at Pre-Nationals, anything is possible.

In her first 6K race at Pre-Nationals, Coppin finished with a time of 21:11, a career-best, in 24th place.

Engel finished in 25th place, and made her way into the Illinois record books. Her time of 21:12 was the best ever for an Illinois freshman.

The team’s fifth through seventh runners have been improving, Harvey said.

Throughout practice this week, Harvey said the team has been working on concentration and “discipline in running in open-field loops.”

The Illini have also been running in “pretty severe” weather conditions. With a wind chill of 14 degrees and a temperature of 23 on Wednesday, the Illini “ran awesome and executed,” Harvey said.

Harvey, who believes her team is fit and healthy, said each individual knows how they must race in Terre Haute, Ind.

“I always say, ‘Angry runners run fast,'” Harvey said. “We have been talking all year about everyone running on all cylinders, and we’re hoping (Monday) is the day.”