Illinois women’s cross-country off to Midwest regional


Wenyuan Chen

Audrey Blazek crossing the finish line during the women’s cross-coutry Illini Challenge. The challenge was held at the UI Arboretum on Friday, September 2, 2016.

By Danielle Williams, Contributing writer

The Illinois women’s cross-country team is heading to Iowa City to compete in the NCAA Midwest Regional, hoping to qualify for the NCAA Championship.

Last year, only one Illini qualified for the championship: Alyssa Schneider. Schneider has graduated, but her accomplishments have been succeeded by teammates Amanda Fox, Audrey Blazek and Denise Branch.

The team will be facing tough competition from all over the Midwest. Defending champion Oklahoma State is back and ready to hold on to its winning title. No. 12 Iowa State will be competing to take back the title of NCAA Midwest Champions. Minnesota, who hosted the Big Ten Championships, will also make an appearance against Illinois.

Head coach Scott Jones said that previous meets against these teams served as great practice for regionals.

“I believe the biggest thing going forward is just putting together all of the things I’ve learned from each race,” Branch said. “Just working with my teammates. Now that I have a lot of racing under my belt, I just know that I need to put everything together to have my best race. If we do all of that, we’ll have our best race, then of course we’ll have a high-place finish that we haven’t had in the past few years.”

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Earlier in the season, the Illini competed on this course at the Iowa Regional Preview against most of the same teams. Illinois won this race with four of its runners placing in the top 10.

“We went there to get our bearings with the course and the surroundings to set ourselves up to have the best race we can this Friday,” Jones said. “ We’re setting up to race competitively against other teams in the region. We want to set high goals for ourselves, and we’d like to have a top-10 finish.”

The team overall has to place in the top-two in its region to receive an automatic bid. To qualify individually, a runner has to place in the top-four of their region.

“We’re focusing on this as a team race and optimizing what we can do as a team,” Jones said. “It’s incredibly challenging to qualify in the NCAA championships as an individual, and right now we don’t have people projected to do that.”

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