Men’s cross country finishes 11th at Notre Dame; Pile-up to blame for loss

By Erin Foley

It was a sight Wendel McRaven hadn’t seen in his 15 years of coaching cross country: a full-contact race with a 25-runner pile-up less than a quarter of a mile into the meet. The Illini, running in the 51st annual Notre Dame Invitational on the school’s nine-hole golf course Friday evening, found themselves in an unlucky situation and one that led to an 11th-place finish out of 20 teams.

Seven of the Illini’s nine runners were caught in the course pile-up. Illinois, who was positioned in one of the inside right boxes at the starting line, couldn’t have been in a worse spot, as they tried to make the first right turn just less than 200 meters into the meet. An opposing runner went down, and like a domino effect, so did nearly 30 other racers.

“There are two ways to react after something like that happens,” McRaven said. “You can say woe is me, or you can use it as motivation for the next time out and see that it doesn’t happen again.”

Although the Illini didn’t start off on a good note, McRaven said he was pleased with how his team reacted to the “hand they were dealt.”

Senior Jason Bill, running in his season debut and one of the competitors not taken down by the pile-up, led the Illini with a ninth-place finish in a time of 24:02 for the 8K race.

Freshman Jeremy Stevens finished with a time of 24:33 in 32nd place. Knocked down, but able to get back up, Stevens crossed the line with an 8K personal-best time.

“It’s hard to be 30 to 40 meters behind the last person in the race; that’s a lot of work to do,” McRaven said.

But McRaven said he was impressed that Stevens could manage a time of 24:33 after falling and then defeat some “really good runners.”

Stevens finished the race with a bloody lip, along with holes in his uniform after being spiked in the back during the pile-up. Junior Trent Hoerr and senior Maciej Sniegorksi grabbed tying times of 25:17 in 87th place, while freshman Rob Pykosz had a time of 25:26 after suffering bruised ribs. Senior Dan Stock had a 25:33, while junior Matt Flaherty finished with a 25:39.

North Carolina State took the team title with 86 points, followed by 27th-ranked Providence with 109 points and No. 15 Michigan with 123.

Before the Illini’s top nine runners raced, senior Jon Houseworth and junior Justin Aronson competed in the JV Open race. Aronson finished in fourth place with a time of 25:36, while Houseworth finished in eighth in 26:06.

Pile-up aside, McRaven believes the performances from the runners in the open race are indicative of how the top nine could have raced. He said the top nine runners are where he expects them to be at this point.

“The only frustration was that this race was supposed to be a true gauge of where we were at as a team, but it’s hard to tell because of the setbacks,” McRaven said. “But all things considered, we raced well.”