Kuhl leads team in first meet of season

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Daily Illini Photo Staff

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Daily Illini Photo Staff

By Erin Foley

Jamie Kuhl’s Illini Open experience Friday was much different than last season’s. A year ago, Kuhl had no idea what to expect of her first collegiate race. But now as a meet-tested sophomore, it was obvious to see she has made strides.

Kuhl led the Illini with a 14th-place finish and a time of 15:01 in the 4K race at the Arboretum over the weekend.

“I’m not as scared. Last year, everybody just told me stories and it freaked me out; it was just so much different from high school when I came out and led every race,” Kuhl said. “Now I feel I know more about how to pace myself; I know times better and I feel a lot more experienced.

“(The race) went by pretty fast. I felt good the first lap, and the second lap, I went out harder.”

The meet was not scored, but along with Kuhl, head coach Karen Harvey was impressed with two other Illini. Junior Jacqui Aubert finished in 19th place with a time of 15:11, while freshman Taylor Bennett finished in 25th place with a 15:20.

Freshmen Abby Shunk (29th place), Jamie Brusa (33rd), Rachel Wyffels (34th) and Allie Dale (42nd) also competed.

The Illini’s opening meet of the season is used to give freshmen and younger members of the team practice running at the college level. Illinois’ young squad features two seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and nine freshmen. The rest of the Illinois team participated in a workout prior to the Illini Open.

But with every member of the 2005 team that finished in fifth place at the NCAA Championships returning, Harvey said people are starting to find out how difficult it will be to make the team that competes in the postseason.

“Kids are trying to work their way onto the travel team and we gave them that opportunity, just to improve themselves,” Harvey said. “I have three girls and I gave them some goal times for the race to be under 15:20, and I had three people do that (Kuhl, Aubuert and Bennett). And I’m pleased that they took the goals seriously and went after it.”

Of the runners that raced Friday, Harvey said no one impressed more than Bennett. Without much cross country experience in high school, Harvey said it was Bennett’s toughness that she admired the most.

While Harvey said she is impressed with the freshmen’s transition from high school, the progression of veteran runners and the leadership they are providing, she knows the cross country season is still just getting started.

“They’re looking great. It’s a long year and there’s a lot of things that can go wrong,” Harvey said. “We are way better than we were last year; I know that.”

The Illini return to action Sept. 15 when they host the Illini Challenge – their final home meet of the season – at the UI Arboretum in Urbana.