Illinois men's cross-country season ends on a sour note

By Will Most

After a thrilling finish at the Big Ten Championship — where they took second — the No. 19 Illini men’s cross-country eighth-place finish in the Midwest Regionals effectively ends the Illini’s season. 

However, junior Dylan Lafond’s individual eighth place finish earned him a bid to race in the National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, the city where Lafond had a breakout performance earlier this season in the Greater Louisville Classic.

“I think we were all disappointed,” head coach Jake Stewart. “I wanted so badly for them to run the way they wanted to run and have the result that we all hoped to have. It wasn’t a lack of effort on their part, sometimes as a program, your just not ready to make that next step.”

While five runners will graduate, the top five finishers on Friday in Lawrence are all returning next season. Four of those runners are freshman, and the Illini have a top recruit in Zach Dale who has spent most of this season on the sideline. Jesse Reiser, another returning runner, was this year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Looking back, October was the best month of the season for the Illini — they started making waves at the Greater Louisville Classic Oct. 3, where they took fifth among some tough competition. The highlight of their season was the Big Ten Championship, when the Illini ran their best, finishing second in the conference and earning their first national ranking of the season.

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“I think if we are looking on the totality of this fall, we can look back on it very positively,” Stewart said. “We accomplished a lot of things that haven’t been done in this program in a very long time, and you can’t take that away.”

While the young roster is something Illinois can highlight as a positive moving forward, it must also account for the talent seniors that they will be losing. Jereme Atchison had many top-10 finishes at smaller meets, yet never got to prove himself in a big meet. Fellow senior Ian Barnett was the team’s second-best runner for much of the season but couldn’t come through in the NCAA Regionals, finishing  68th.

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@Will Most