NCAA championship remains elusive for Illini

By Erin Foley

The Midwest Region Championships on Saturday brought a mixed bag of results for the Illinois men’s cross country team. Although the Illini finished in seventh place for the second consecutive year and failed to qualify for the NCAA Championships on Nov. 20, senior Jason Bill earned an individual qualifying bid for the third time in his career.

Bill, who competed at nationals in 2002 and 2004, finished in third place overall with a time of 30:48 for the 10K race.

“I’m very pleased with how Jason ran,” head coach Wendel McRaven said. “He ran a smart race. He hung back (during the beginning of the race), but got himself into the lead group. By 8K, it was a three-man race.”

Bill finished third to Iowa’s Micah Vandenend (30:14) and Minnesota’s Chris Rombough (30:47).

After getting strep throat earlier in the season, it took Bill some time to return to form.

Both McRaven and Bill thought he would be 100 percent at the Big Ten meet on Oct. 29, but a 20th-place finish proved otherwise.

Bill just needed another week to regroup.

“I’m really proud of how he’s regrouped towards the end of the season,” McRaven said. “He’s put himself in a great position on Monday to battle for All-American honors.”

In 2004, Bill placed 76th at the NCAA Championships with a time of 32:22, while in 2002, Bill finished 155th overall.

The Illini as a whole didn’t fare as well.

Freshman Jeremy Stevens finished in 27th place with a time of 31:36, while junior Trent Hoerr, who was in the emergency room two weeks ago with the stomach flu, finished in 30th place with a time of 31:46.

“It’s been a rough season for Trent,” McRaven said. “He’s not pleased with how the season turned out, but he’s battled through to the end.”

McRaven said Stevens ran “a very solid race,” and was also impressed with junior Michael Kelley’s 34th place finish and time of 32:00.69.

Senior Maciej Sniegorksi (54th place), junior Dan Stock (83rd place), who individually qualified for nationals last season, but felt “horrible” during regionals, and redshirt freshman Rob Pykosz (84th place) also competed for the Illini.

If the Illini had a stronger performance from the fifth runner, McRaven said the Illini could have finished in third place, compared with seventh. Only 27 points separated the Illini and Iowa, who finished in third place.

“We are one (runner) away. Through four runners we look like everybody else,” McRaven said. “The reality is, it’s right there in front of us.”