Runners ready for Big Ten meet

By Laura Hettiger

Wendel McRaven is ready – ready to show his men’s cross country team’s progress and ready to show its Big Ten foes the Fighting Illini are a force to be reckoned with.

When McRaven became head coach three seasons ago, he had one goal in mind: to turn the Illini into a team that can compete with the upper half of the Big Ten Conference. On Sunday, McRaven will see if he’s achieved his goal when Illinois travels to Columbus, Ohio, for the annual Big Ten Championships.

“On paper, it appears we’re right there,” McRaven said. “We have to run the way we’ve been running all year.”

Because the conference is full of powerhouse cross country teams, McRaven believes if his team can be fourth or fifth in the conference, the Illini could be in the top 30 cross country teams in the country.

With three nationally ranked teams, including No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Michigan and No. 22 Minnesota at No. 22, Illinois has a tough race ahead.

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“You always want to be better,” said McRaven, whose team has only raced in four meets. “In everybody’s wildest dreams, you want to be better.”

So far, McRaven said the Illini have “looked good in practice” this week, and the team will take it easy the days before the meet to ensure the runners have “fresh legs” Sunday morning.

“Every time we train I get pretty fired up about how we’re looking,” McRaven said.

The conference challenge will only have 10 teams competing because Northwestern does not field a men’s cross country team. This will be the first time this season the Illini have raced against many of their competitors.

Individually, McRaven expects great things at the meet from senior standout Trent Hoerr and sophomore Jacob Nachel, both of whom have already turned in fast times for the Illini this season.

The top seven finishers for the race will be named First Team All-Big Ten and the eight through 14 finishers will be named Second Team All-Big Ten. Both Hoerr and Nachel have legitimate shots at receiving the prestigious honors.

With the thoughts of competing against three nationally ranked teams and the hopes for two of his runners to be listed as All-Big Ten, McRaven is excited for the race and proud of the progress his team has made.

The Big Ten Championships will be held at the Ohio State University with the race getting under way at 10:30 a.m.