IIllini Open offers a final breather before Big Ten Championships

By Will Most

After a long and challenging road stint, the Illini are coming home for the first time since their season opener, the Illini Challenge. While the Illini Open might seem like an opportunity for what is one of the better Illinois cross-country teams in years to showcase its roster in front of its hometown crowd, the race is often used as something different entirely.

“In years past this has been a run-off for the last couple spots on the Big Ten Championship roster,” head coach Jake Stewart said. “ This year with our depth, that’s not something that we necessarily have to do.”

Instead of a race off, the Illini will run a bit of a different roster, one that features senior Jereme Atchison, senior Jack Driggs and junior Sean Pengelly as well as some unattached redshirt freshmen. While it may seem that the Open represents the end of the season for many, Stewart suggested that the door remains slightly ajar.

“It’s not to say that this is going to be the cap of their season,” Stewart said.“Things can happen between now and Big Ten and Regionals.”

The race will be run in a place which the cross-country team is quite familiar with, the University of Illinois Arboretum. The course, which Illinois has experience practicing and racing on in the past, should provide an opportunity for the Illini to turn their familiarity into excellent times.

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    “We’ve done many practices up there,” Atchison said.“We definitely know the course really well, it’s pretty flat with one big hill, so we can get out there and run really fast hopefully.”

    The Illini Open might not be the most significant race the Illini have ever run, but it still presents an opportunity for Atchison and Driggs to either close out solid seasons or prove that they deserve a shot at the conference championship. For Pengelly, it offers a chance to transition smoothly into indoor track. And finally, for the unattached redshirted freshman, in presents an opportunity to create some excitement for next season and show that they can add to an already young core of talented runners.

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