Women earn fourth spot; Bizzarri runs third overall

By Jeff LaBelle

Angela Bizzarri led all Illini in the Big Ten Championships on Sunday, pacing the women’s cross-country team to a fourth-place overall finish.

Bizzarri, a sophomore All-American and the team’s top runner this season, finished the 6K race in a personal-best time of 19 minutes, 59 seconds, for third overall. Katie Engel, the only other Illini to finish in the top 20, crossed 13th at 20:30. Danelle Woods, Stephanie Baliga and Rachel Hernandez finished in the top 30.

All seven Illini lowered their times considerably from Pre-Nationals two weeks ago. Bizzarri cut about 13 seconds from her time and Engel dropped nearly 30 seconds, the biggest improvement in the two-week span. However, head coach Jeremy Rasmussen had hoped for better results in the finish.

“We ran well today but we’re a little disappointed in how the results turned out,” Rasmussen said in a press release. “We are competing in one of the best distance conferences in the nation, so to finish fourth is bittersweet. Today’s race is something we will learn from and we’ll be better off down the road because of it.”

The Illini finish is an improvement over last season’s fifth-place mark. However, the No. 10 Illini had hoped to be the team that would dethrone Michigan for the first time since 2000. But eighth-ranked Minnesota stole that honor Sunday, scoring 72 points to haul in the title, and Michigan fell to third with 90 points.

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The Illini were only 22 points out of second place with a 95. Because lower scores equate to better finishes in cross country competition, Michigan State secured second with a 73.

“One of the things we haven’t done all year is to really take a chance in one of our races. Today we did that and made a push between the 3K and 4K part of the race,” Rasmussen said. “We ran great through the 5K, but just didn’t finish how we wanted to.”

The Illini need to finish in the top two or receive an at-large bid during the NCAA Midwest Regionals in two weeks to qualify for the National Championships on Nov. 19.