Illini women’s cross-country optimistic after victory

The Illini women’s cross-country squad gained momentum Friday, with runners finishing at the head of the pack during their first road race of the season.

Illinois won the Bradley Open in Peoria, Ill., scoring 15 points and finishing individual runners in first, second, third, fourth and sixth places. Led by junior Madeline Aufmann, who finished in 17 minutes, 13 seconds, the Illini saw their first opportunity of the season to finish a solid grouping of runners at the front of the race.

“It was a good starting point for us to come out and run fast and run together,” Aufmann said. “Just looking at times from last year, we’re strides above last year.”

The race, held at Detweiller Park in Peoria, proved advantageous for many young Illini runners. The course served as the IHSA state finals course for the previous two years, which provided several Illini with experience on the course.

“The more and more you run a course the more and more confidence you have to navigate and have success on the road,” head coach Jeremy Rasmussen said.

Sophomores Katie Porada (17:17) and Meghan Frigo (17:22) finished in second and third overall in the season debut for both runners. Freshman Colette Falsey crossed the finish-line fourth overall, shortly behind Frigo.

With competition such as Western Illinois, Bradley, Illinois Wesleyan and Carl Sandburg College, the Illini came out on top against a core of competition that was expected to be less than stellar. As an early season race, however, it served its purpose as a benchmarking race for the team.

“We talk about it all the time, we want to treat each race the same whether it’s top competition or someone we should go out against and compete with,” Rasmussen said.

Beginning next week at the Illini’s own Orange and Blue Preview, the team will face stiffer competition and run in more difficult terrain. The confidence built by the squad rolling over their competition in Peoria has created higher expectations for the more challenging upcoming races.

“It felt good to have great kick at the end, the whole race seemed to come to us, we got after it as a team,” Aufmann said.

As Rasmussen continues to let more runners out onto the course and race hard, they plan to start posting competitive times, not merely showcasing early season potential. With a core of young runners building momentum early, there’s reason to look forward to the rest of the season.

But until the team faces stiffer competition, the squad is not getting ahead of themselves.

“Coming into this weekend we’ll see some competition, and it will give us an idea of where we are or if we still need a lot of work,” Rasmussen said.