Illini men’s cross-country falls short of goal at adidas invitational

Friday marked a disappointing return to the racecourse for the men’s cross-country squad.

After nearly a month between competitive races, the Illini returned to action Friday at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational.

Illinois placed 26th overall with 619 points, finishing ahead of only three other Big Ten teams. Jordan Hebert led the team, finishing 49th overall with a personal best 8K time of 24:31. Wisconsin took the overall victory with 66 points.

The result was not what the Illini were expecting. They had expressed confidence that the time off to train and work out their kinks would propel them to at least the top half of the Big Ten.

“I’m frustrated for the team, they’ve done everything I’ve asked of them in the past three weeks,” Illinois head coach Gavin Kennedy said. “It’s frustrating to come out and fall short of your goals and what you want to accomplish.”

The Orange and Blue have not qualified for the NCAA regional competition in 25 years, and Kennedy made it his ultimate goal for the team to succeed in his first year. Finishes similar to Friday’s will not cut it for the team, he said, and that reality is being taken as something to learn from.

“If we’re going to have a bad race,” senior Jim Riddle said, “it’s better that we get it out now, than as opposed to Big Tens or regionals.”

At this point in the season, the majority of the runners are in the best physical condition possible, and they must now work to get sharper and more efficient in their running.

“I know that we’re all in great shape,” Hebert said. “In every workout we run right next to each other, I would just like to see that in a race now.”

The squad now enters a crucial week of training, in which the runners must take what they learned at Wisconsin and correct their mistakes and develop their positives more completely. Kennedy is also aware of the dangers of over-working his runners.

“I think the workout earlier this week and the mileage they’ve been running left them a little tired, and it showed,” Kennedy said. “Recovery is the main goal we need to focus on in the next week.”

The Illini will compete in their final race before Big Tens on Friday, as they host the Illini Open at the UI Arboretum.

The race will serve as another opportunity for the top Illini runners to sharpen their racing and build momentum entering the season’s most important races.

“We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing, and then we can build confidence from there going into Big Tens,” Hebert said.