Harvey remains confident in Illini

By Erin Foley

Women’s cross country head coach Karen Harvey continually says this year’s team is better than the squad that took fifth place at the NCAA Championships last November. But after the Illini came in fifth at the Notre Dame Invitational on Sept. 29, Harvey said Illinois “got the kick in the rear it needed.”

The training the Illini did last week, though, has Harvey feeling confident that her team can be successful at the NCAA Pre-National meet – the first race of the championship phase of the season – in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday,

“They ran very hard last week; they had three hard workouts and ran high mileage,” she said of her team. “They focused and refocused, and gained quite a bit of toughness.”

Several top-30 teams will be in attendance at the Cross Country Championship Course in Terre Haute. Success at pre-nationals earns team points and advantages over other squads when being considered for NCAA Championship invitations.

“Everyone is improving, which we wanted,” Harvey said. “Knock on wood, we have no injuries or illnesses.”

Seven Illini runners will be competing in the team race. They include seniors Cassie Hunt and Stephanie Simms, juniors Rachel Hernandez and Maggie Carroll and freshmen Angela Bizzarri, Stephanie Baliga and Theresa Brokaw. Harvey made a decision to run Brokaw in the seventh spot over highly-touted recruit, Shannon Phelan.

“Sometimes you can have a couple weeks where you’re not competing well, and that is what Shannon is going through right now,” Harvey said. “She’s definitely a talent, but we are taking who is running the best right now. (Assistant coach Kevin Sullivan and I) feel we will have the best seven on that line.”

The goal is for the pack to get closer together, Harvey said. Although she doesn’t care who is leading the pack, she said there needs to be more “fire power” at the front. Hunt, Simms and Bizzarri should answer that challenge, but Harvey said Carroll, Hernandez and Baliga are “on the brink of doing good things.”

“I feel much better going into this race than I did going into Notre Dame,” Harvey said.