Men’s cross country team sees victories despite illness

By Erin Foley

After Saturday’s tie for 15th place at the NCAA Pre-National meet in Terre Haute, Ind., the Illinois men’s cross country team is headed in the right direction. Head coach Wendel McRaven even believed it to be the best performance from the men’s cross country program in the last 10 years. That’s at least the conclusion he came to after looking through team archives following the race.

“We went out a little too quick for what we could handle; we were in sixth place at the 5K (mark) and had three (runners) in the top 25,” McRaven said. “Obviously, we faded over the last 3K, but it will pay off later in the season. We gave ourselves a shot.”

The team’s quick start worked to its advantage as Illinois knocked off Central Michigan, a team who received votes in last week’s national poll, Ohio State, the runner-up at the 2005 Big Ten Championships, and Villanova, among others. The Illini also tied for 15th with Dartmouth, who is ranked No. 26 in the nation. Arizona took the team title with 75 points.

“It was a solid effort; it wasn’t spectacular by any stretch, but it gives us pretty positive momentum going into the postseason,” McRaven said of finishing in the middle of the 32-team field.

The effort was equally as impressive considering the Illini’s top two finishers in the race, junior Trent Hoerr and senior Jason Bill, had been battling illnesses in the two weeks leading up to the race. Hoerr, who was still getting over a virus, finished in 43rd place overall with a time of 24:26 for the 8K race – a personal best.

“Trent had his best race in years,” McRaven said. “He’s just starting to scratch the surface.”

As for Bill, who had strep throat, McRaven said he didn’t even know if the senior would run at Pre-Nationals until two days before the race. Bill finished in 51st place with a time of 24:29.

“He hung tough; I was very proud of him,” McRaven said of Bill. “Now he just has to stay healthy.”

The Illini’s second-year coach was pleased both ran solid races despite not being at 100 percent.

Freshman Jeremy Stevens came in 74th place with a time of 24:44, while junior Dan Stock finished with a time of 24:57 in 113th place. Stock, who individually qualified for the 2005 NCAA Championships after a break-out year, is nearly right where he was last year in October, McRaven said.

Senior Maciej Sniegorksi (25:06) and freshmen Jabob Nachel (25:35) and Rob Pykosz (26:37), who ran the race with a 102 degree fever, also competed for the Illini.

If the Illini have five runners finish under 25 minutes in upcoming races, like the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Midwest Regional, the team will be knocking on the door of the national level, McRaven said. He also said it wouldn’t surprise him if the Illini received votes in the upcoming national polls.