Women take first place at Challenge

By Erin Foley

It was a similar story for both the men’s and women’s cross country teams at the annual “Pack-It-Up” Challenge on Friday evening at the Arboretum. In front of the home crowd one last time this season, a runner from each Illini squad captured individual titles, while the men won their second-consecutive Challenge title and the women their fourth consecutive first-place showing.

Junior Rachel Hernandez grabbed the first individual cross country title of her collegiate career with a 5K personal-best time of 18:02.

Although the Challenge normally is used to give younger runners more experience running at the college level, head women’s coach Karen Harvey thought Hernandez wasn’t running up to her potential in recent workouts and put her in the Challenge lineup. Although Harvey wanted Hernandez to finish under 18 minutes, she said the junior “ran great” and can use this race as a stepping stone.

“It definitely looked like the Rachel that I’ve been waiting for,” Harvey said. “She hasn’t had a confident cross country race like that since her freshman year.”

Hernandez was also crucial in leading the six freshmen running in the race. With three Illini finishing in the top five, Hernandez’s pace set the tone. Sophomore Liz Mengyan finished in fourth place with a time of 18:27, while freshman Theresa Brokaw, who was sick for most of the week, finished with a time of 18:38 in fifth place. Harvey described Brokaw as running a “tough” race, while she said Mengyan ran “solid.”

“(The race) gave me an idea where people are at, and gave me a little clue as to who should be in that (top) nine,” Harvey said.

While much still needs to be decided for the Illini’s travel squad, Hernandez solidified herself as saying she is a serious contender for one of those top nine spots, Harvey said.

Harvey said it is certain that Mengyan will be running again for the Illini on Friday at the Brissman-Lundeen Invite in Rock Island, Ill., when the Illini’s top seven runners will make their season debut.

“Neither (Liz) nor I was pleased with the way she ran at the two home meets,” Harvey said.

The No. 6-ranked Illini finished with 29 points, while Illinois State finished with 45. Wisconsin-Milwaukee came in third with 71 and Illinois-Chicago had 81. Other finishers for the Illini included sophomore Jamie Kuhl, who won the last home meet Sept. 1, in eighth place with a time of 19:04 and freshman Taylor Bennett in 11th place at 19:13. Junior Jacqui Aubert (13th place) and freshman Abby Shunk (16th), Rachel Wyffles (20th) and Allie Dale (21st) also competed.