Women’s cross country takes Intercollegiate title

By Jeff LaBelle

Danelle Woods said she was only trying to keep the pace. It led her to near the front of the pack.

Woods, the Canadian freshman making her collegiate women’s cross country debut, shook off an abundance of nerves to finish second overall in the Illinois Intercollegiate Championship on Friday. Her plan all along was to find the fast groove, all the while waiting until the final two kilometers to make a break for the front.

The plan paid off for her and her teammates.

“I personally just tried to challenge everyone out there,” Woods said. “We wanted to go easy the first three kilometers and pick it up at the end. That’s what led us to the top.”

The Illini finished first in the 20-team field ahead of Illinois State and Northwestern, the second- and third-place finishers, respectively. In team meetings before the race, first-year head coach Jeremy Rasmussen put an emphasis on staying patient and not starting too fast.

“Everybody followed the race plan very well,” Rasmussen said. “They stayed patient and consistent and that was pretty much our focus. I think the biggest thing for us is to stay consistent in the coming weeks. I preach it to the girls all the time. They need to make sure they’re taking care of themselves and staying healthy.”

Four other Illinois runners – Chantelle Groenewoud, Abby Shunk, Theresa Brokaw and Jamie Brusa – had top-10 finishes. Groenewoud, also making her collegiate debut, finished fourth in the meet, impressing her coach.

“Coming in, I expected (Woods and Groenewoud) to have a shot at being on our varsity squad at the end of the season,” Rasmussen said. “Everything they’ve done has reinforced that thought process. Even though they’re young, they have great experience.”

All-American sophomore Angela Bizzarri, Stephanie Baliga and Rachel Hernandez were held out of competition and are scheduled to see their first action on Sept. 28 at the Notre Dame Invitational.

“For me, I have different reasons for each girl I held out,” Rasmussen said. “Some were coming back from injury, some had surgery over the summer and some of them are in for a longer year when track season starts. I want to make sure they keep fresh and every race is their best effort.”

Rasmussen, who replaced Karen Harvey at the beginning of the season, said he was pleased and impressed with how they have all adjusted to his new leadership in the early days of the season.

“It’s taken them time just getting used to everything I do as a coach,” Rasmussen said. “Everyone has really made some strides in the last few weeks. They’ve taken the change well and have definitely been improving.”

Before her second-place finish, the prospect of representing Illinois for the first time had Woods sweating. Her experience running in the Pan American Games during the summer and competing internationally in Beijing and Kenya didn’t prepare her for the excitement she felt over the weekend.

“It was awesome putting on Illinois gear for the first time,” Woods said. “It was also really nerve-racking. But it was great at the same time.”