Reigning Runner of the Week to lead Illini

By Kyle Diller

The men’s cross country team aims to continue its successful start to the season in the Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational on Saturday, with Big Ten Runner of the Week Jeremy Stevens leading the way.

Following first-place finishes in both of its meets this year, momentum is building up behind the Orange and Blue as they travel to Loyola University. The Illini will compete among 61 schools, including No. 6 Wisconsin.

While the Illini will face ranked opponents this weekend, the focus remains what it has been all season long – improvement.

“We always want to continue to perfect our race day routine,” head coach Wendel McRaven said. “When we race this time of year we gain something out of it; we want to get a great training effect out of racing.”

The team is still in preparation mode, as its main focus remains on the Big Ten Championships and NCAA meets in November.

“We go to Pre-Nationals in three weeks and the quality will be ramped up at the Pre-National meets, so this is a good test run for us,” McRaven said. “Probably by Pre-Nationals we may have a new face or two, but right now our lineup is pretty much set.”

After being awarded with Big Ten honors for his performance in the Illinois Intercollegiate Championships, Stevens remains grounded, not letting the praise put added pressure on him.

“It’s an accomplishment for me, it was really one of my first big honors,” the junior runner said. “To be in the Big Ten is pretty competitive, so to get an award is pretty nice.”

Meanwhile, the freshmen have performed strongly this season, showing there is promise for the men’s cross country program in the future. These freshmen will be looking to continue their strong performances in the invitational.

“I just want to go there, score high as a team, and hopefully get a win,” freshman Nathan Troester said. “We want to have the top five, top seven guys right around each other, pushing each other, being in the front of the pack.”

As one of the more experienced runners, Stevens also knows everyone’s focus should be on the team’s goals, not personal success.

“It’s just another step for us to find our teammates and find who we should be racing with and work together, that’s a big goal for this race,” Stevens said.