Men’s cross-country prepares for first meet of season

By Bob Merlo

A new-look Illini men’s cross-country team plans to get its first assessment at how the team runs together competitively at the Illini Challenge held at the Arboretum.

The Gavin Kennedy era will commence for Illinois when the starting gun sounds at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The race will serve as an opportunity for the runners to establish a comfort zone within the team and to assess where the Illini stand among other squads.

“This weekend’s basically just a tune-up to see where we are right now and the progression of our training,” senior Nate Troester said. “Once we have a benchmark, we can move on from there.”

Running in an official race for the first time this season will provide a benchmark for Kennedy, as this race holds a slightly deeper significance for him.

“I’m excited, it’s my first time coaching at Illinois and these guys are fired up,” Kennedy said. “But we’re not out there to prove anything, there’s bigger races coming up later in the season.”

The Illini are pacing themselves; they are not pretending this race will make or break their season.

“It’s not a race that we’re going to put all our eggs in one basket, we’re just kind of going to go train through it and see what happens,” Troester said.

Unlike future events, Kennedy plans on racing some redshirt freshmen Friday, to get an almost risk-free look at how they can contribute to the team this year and in the future.

“I hope they get after it a little bit, that will kind of show me where those guys are at.” Kennedy said, “I kind of want to let them loose a little bit and race a little bit harder.”

The excessive heat expected Friday adds another level of caution to a race that is not going to be treated as a crucial event.

“For all the teams participating, we hope for seven guys to go up to the line and seven guys finish healthy so we can move on to next stage of our racing season,” Kennedy said.

The runners expect the heat to be a disadvantage, but it is an issue every team will have to deal with.

“I don’t think people are going to go out crazy with a pace, and people will definitely use more caution,” Troester said.

The Illini runners do hold an advantage over the competitors: running on the course that they practice on almost daily. And there’s no place like home.

“You know all the secrets of the course, where it’s hard and easy and you never want to be beat at home so you would go harder than if you were at someone else’s home course,” junior Jordan Hebert said.