Cross country takes disappointing fifth

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Ilinois Jamie Kuhl runs during the 4K Illini Open cross country meet at the Arboretum in Urbana on Friday, Sept. 1, 2006. Kuhl placed 14th with a time of 15:01.59 in a race that included individuals from Marquette, Purdue, Illinois State, and Eastern Illinois.

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Ilinois’ Jamie Kuhl runs during the 4K Illini Open cross country meet at the Arboretum in Urbana on Friday, Sept. 1, 2006. Kuhl placed 14th with a time of 15:01.59 in a race that included individuals from Marquette, Purdue, Illinois State, and Eastern Illinois.

By Erin Foley

One year ago, the Illinois women’s cross country team upset six nationally-ranked opponents and finished in second place at the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Ind. Head coach Karen Harvey said the race signified a “historic day” for the women’s program. This year’s version Friday was anything but, as Illinois only managed a fifth-place showing.

“You can’t come to Notre Dame and run solid as a team; you will get destroyed,” Harvey said, emphasizing the need for an exceptional performance. “They needed a kick in the rear, and they got it.”

Harvey says this team is better than last year’s squad that walked away from the NCAA Championships with a school-record fifth-place finish, but the Notre Dame Invite historically attracts some of the best teams in the nation. The No. 7-ranked Illini went up against seven top-30 opponents and did not get out of the box quickly.

“I couldn’t believe where we were the first 400 meters; we were near the back” Harvey said. “When you get out slow (on Notre Dame’s nine-hole golf course with narrow lanes), there’s no room to move. We had to run with the slow people for nearly 800 meters.”

One Illini runner, though, to do just that was Angela Bizzarri. The freshman, who was named Big Ten Runner of the Week on Wednesday for her first-place finish at the 6,000-meter Brissman-Lundeen Invite on Sept. 22, set another personal best. This time Bizzarri shattered the 5K freshman record by 22 seconds with her fifth-place performance and time of 16:56 at the Notre Dame Invite. Bizzarri owns both the Illinois 5K and 6K freshman records for her first two collegiate races and has the fifth fastest 5K finish in Illini history.

“(Angela) got out of that box and did what I told the team to do,” Harvey said. “I don’t know what happened to the rest of the team, but I was disappointed we didn’t execute. The momentum never got going.”

Harvey says the reason for Bizzarri’s success is simple: the Mason, Ohio, native just keeps going out there and being aggressive.

“She’s really calm and reserved and a quiet person, but when she gets out and runs, she turns into a tiger,” Harvey said.

Senior Cassie Hunt, who is five weeks behind in training from the rest of the team, finished in 20th place with a time of 17:16, while Stephanie Simms finished in 25th with a time of 17:22. Junior Maggie Carroll finished in 35th place, while freshman Stephanie Baliga came in 41st. Junior Rachel Hernandez finished in the sixth spot for the Illini with a time of 17:52. Harvey, though, knows Hernandez can run better.

“She needs to move up in the top five,” Harvey said. “She has the ability to be a big hero for us.”

Harvey said freshman Shannon Phelan, who finished with a time of 18:24, would have broken 18 minutes had she not run the last two miles of the race with one shoe. Katie Engel, 2005 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, ran in “agony” with blisters, one so bad that it’s down to the bone, Harvey said. Engel rounded out the Illini runners with a time of 18:28.

No. 3 Michigan took the team title with 57 points, with No. 12 North Carolina State in second place with 95 points. No. 16 Providence and No. 29 Florida State came in third and fourth with 120 and 124 points, respectively. Illinois finished with 126 points.

“Every season starts differently,” Harvey said. “We were six points out of third (place), fifth looks so bad on paper.

“When we all come together as a team, it will be special.”

Illini assistant wins Continental Airlines Fifth Avenue Mile

Kevin Sullivan, Harvey’s husband and Illinois assistant coach, took first place in the Continental Airlines Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City on Saturday, just one day after being in South Bend for the women’s team’s race.

Sullivan, a Canadian, overcame New Zealand’s Nick Willis in the last 100 meters to finish with a time of 3:54.1.

Sullivan, the oldest entrant in the race at age 32, didn’t get to New York to check into his hotel until 10 a.m, and raced at 12:50 p.m.

“He loves these girls; Kevin’s done a lot for this University, more than people know,” Harvey said of Sullivan’s willingness to be at the women’s race when he was competing the next day.

Added Harvey: “This proves that you don’t have to have everything go perfectly to run well.”