Cross country faces Notre Dame Invite

Cross country faces Notre Dame Invite

By Erin Foley

The Illinois women’s cross country team will get its toughest test of the young season today when it competes in the 51st annual Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Ind.

The Illini, ranked No. 7 in the country, will face a field of seven top-30 opponents: Michigan (3), North Carolina State (12), Providence (16), Michigan State (20), North Carolina (25), Georgia (27) and Florida State (29).

No stranger to Notre Dame’s nine-hole golf course where the meet will be run, Illinois will look to take advantage of its previous experience there.

Although head coach Karen Harvey’s top nine runners include three freshmen, she said it won’t matter what year a runner is.

“(The upperclassmen) have experience on the course, even though the newcomers haven’t been there yet,” Harvey said.

“I think I speak for everyone when I say this meet is exciting. People come here to run fast, and (Friday) will be fast and competitive,” she added.

The Notre Dame Invite, continually one of the Illini’s tougher meets before the championship leg of their season, is a race Harvey is looking to see improvement.

She is hoping that her top nine runners will all run under 18 minutes for the 5K race.

The top runners will compete at 4:15 p.m. in the Blue Division race, while the Illini’s other team of nine will run in the Gold Division race at 1 p.m.

Last year, the Illini took the Invite by storm when they upset six nationally ranked teams and captured a second-place finish.

Then-junior Cassie Hunt led the Illini with a fifth-place finish and a time of 16:52. Hunt’s time was good enough for third place in the Illinois record books for 5K performances.

Although the Illini were ranked 20th at last season’s race and have a much-improved place in the polls this year, they still have much to worry about.

Harvey said her team can’t get wrapped up in just worrying about its Big Ten conference foe Michigan, who the Illini beat at the 2005 NCAA Championships.

“I’ve told them not to just look at Michigan,” Harvey said.

“It’s a danger to just look at one team; we can’t overlook North Carolina State and Providence because they are really good,” she continued.

Freshman receives Big Ten honor

Freshman Angela Bizzarri earned her first Big Ten Runner of the Week honor Wednesday after taking the crown in last weekend’s 6,000-meter Brissman-Lundeen Invite in Davenport, Iowa.

Bizzarri, a native of Mason, Ohio and a two-time Ohio Division I State High School Cross Country Champion in 2002 and 2004, won the race in a time of 20:54 – the second-fastest 6K time for a freshman.

This was the third Big Ten Runner of the Week honor for the Illini in the last three seasons; Hunt and Maggie Carroll were honored as sophomores in 2004 and 2005.

After seeing Bizzarri’s performance last Friday, Harvey said she expected the freshman to be honored by the Big Ten.

“It definitely wasn’t a surprise; I thought she would get the award,” Harvey said.

“She had a great performance,” she added.