Illinois men's cross-country searches for success at two different meets

By Will Most

Success at their upcoming meets this weekend, however, could make an entirely different statement.

With its huge and competitive field, a top finish at the adidas Wisconsin Invite would suggest that the Illini deserve not just regional recognition, but national approval.

Success at the Bradley Classic would indicate that Illinois is a very deep team, as people even outside their top seven are able to compete at a high level by themselves.

adidas Wisconsin Classic

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In its last meet in Louisville, Illinois actually finished ahead of No. 4-ranked Wisconsinlb, but come this Saturday at the adidas Wisconsin Classic, that kind of outcome seems unlikely, as the highly talented Wisconsin team will look for massive success in their home meet.

This does not mean that Illinois cannot walk away from the weekend feeling successful. The Illini were the first team to miss the NCAA top-30 rankings, and if they can surprise a few teams at the invite, a national ranking is likely to be in their future.

“I think Wisconsin will be a really good judge of where we actually stand and where other teams actually stand,” senior Ian Barnett lbsaid. “If we place in the top 10 or 12 like we should, there will be no denying that we should be ranked in the top 25.”

Interestingly enough, head coach Jake Stewartlb would also appreciate recognition, but has a different take on the situation.

“I’m sure the recognition would be nice.” Stewart. “If we come away with a ranking after all this is said and done, that’s great, but I already know who we are.”

Illinois will be running a relatively similar lineup to the one it debuted in Kentucky, except with senior Paul Zemanlb absent and junior Liam Markham lbtaking his place. Markham’s last race was actually the separate ‘blue race’ in Kentucky, which he placed in the top five.

Beyond that, Illinois will be depending on All-American redshirt junior Dylan LaFondlb and with strong performances from both, the Illini should look to improve on their last meet and gain some national recognition.

“I think the group in totality needs to improve a small improvement from where we were two weeks ago,” Stewart said.

Bradley Classic

While Illinois’ top runners will be running an extremely competitive national meet, some of the team’s other runners will be taking on a meet of a very different variety. The Bradley Classic will not feature many nationally ranked teams, but will still host talented competition from the Midwest and beyond.

The Illini will be lead by senior Jereme Atchison, who last took fourth at the Brissman-Lundeen Invite three weeks agolb, and Alex Gold, who posted an equally impressive performance at the same meet, placing fifthlb.

With all this talent, Stewart expects not only success, but a victory.

“We have such good depth,” Barnett said “A lot of the guys who are running in Peoria could also be running in Wisconsin.”

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