Top men’s cross country recruit makes his Illini debut

By Will Most

Jesse Reiser could have run anywhere.

With an impressively quick 8 minute 55 second two mile and top-10 finishes in both Foot Locker Nationals and Nike Cross Nationals, freshman Reiser was in the conversation as one of the very best recruits in the nation.

Of all the universities he could have attended, Reiser, an Illinois high school cross country state champion, decided to stay home. And at Friday’s Spartan Invitational, he made his Illini debut, finishing 14th in a field of nearly 400. Junior Sean Pengelly led the Illini, finishing ninth in 25:14.

“I’ve been looking forward to this moment since I committed here,” Reiser said. “I finally got to represent my home state.”

Reiser’s debut was an unusual one — he was running his first 8,000 meters ever.

He started off at the front of the pack with some of the best runners in the Big Ten, but at about the 6,000-meter mark, Reiser started falling off, finding himself just behind the leaders.

“I was excited to see that he wasn’t afraid to go put himself in a race where he belongs,” said senior Paul Zeman. “I have no doubt that he’ll stay up there and be ready to run 8,000 meters better.”

The Spartan Invite is just the start of Reiser’s season. Both he and the team seem to have big expectations for the rest of his debut season. Reiser thinks he’s capable of meeting those expectations.

“I just want to put myself up there to place high enough so the team can do well,” Reiser said.

Reiser’s performance wasn’t the only one the Illini were pleased with on Friday. Zeman took 12th, which allowed Illinois to establish itself as one of the best teams in the field. Rain lashed the course the night before and humidity was a factor throughout the day: Pengelly’s time was significantly slower than his 24:35 time in the Bluegrass Invitational a week ago.

While the meet was not scored, the Illini took unofficial second, besting both of their ranked Big Ten opponents — Michigan and Michigan State. Illinois trailed only Grand Valley State in the team rankings.

“I didn’t want to come up here and just go through the motions,” said head coach Jake Stewart. “I wanted us to go out and put ourselves in a position to win the meet. We didn’t get there, but I was very pleased that these guys took that approach.”

This Friday, Illinois will run in the Brissman-Lunden Invite in Rock Island, Illinois, where it will try to deliver the win Stewart has been looking for.

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