Illini finish season 14th at NCAA Midwest regionals


Wenyuan Chen

Audrey Blazek crossing the finish line during the Illini Challenge. The challenge was held at the UI Arboretum on Sept. 2.

By Danielle Williams, Staff writer

The Illinois women’s cross country season came to an end in late November.

Head coach Scott Jones said that by the end of the season the Illini achieved many accomplishments, but there is room to improve next season.

The team had a rough start to its season with a last place finish at its first meet — the Illini Challenge.

“A group of women who have exceeded what they had done in the past didn’t have the same depth or the same talent as some of the other teams that we competed against,” Jones said. “We would have liked to be better; our depth hurt us a little bit.”

As the season went on, they fought through many competitive meets: At the Country Financial ISU Invite they placed third out of 10 teams and at the Roy Griak Invite they placed 24th of 34 teams.

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Senior Valerie Bobart set a new 5k personal record time of 18:22.7 at the ISU invite.

The team’s hard work finally seemed to be paying off at the Iowa Regional Preview. The team won the meet with a couple of individual accomplishments.

Junior Audrey Blazek set a new 6k personal best time at the Iowa Regional Preview, clocking in at 21:32.7 with a third place finish.

“Blazek, Denise Branch and Bobart really showed a lot of improvement from what they had done in the past. Amanda Fox was able to put together her best college cross country season also,” Jones said.

Fox placed eighth with a time that she would soon break at Regionals.

The Bradley Pink Classic was another high point for some of the Illini. The team placed 10th out of 31 teams, with three of the Illini finishing in the top-50.

Branch finished for the team and placed 15th. She also set a new 6k person-record with a time of 21:18.9.

The Illini Open gave the freshmen, and a few of the sophomores, a chance to compete. The Illini finished fourth out of seven teams.

“One of the other hidden benefits of this season is that some of the freshmen had opportunities that they would not have had otherwise,” Jones said. “Diane Lipa and Julia Schultz in particular really took advantage of the opportunities they had. Unfortunately, Charlotte Nawor hurt her ankle during a race and had a slower recovery but she got a little bit of experience. All of the freshmen had a better sense of what things are about going forward.”

The Big Ten Championships was the most anticipated meet for the Illini: They placed 10th out of 14 teams.

The NCAA Midwest Regional was the last meet for the women’s 2016 cross country season.

The team finished 14th but Bobart set a 6k personal best time at her last race as an Illini, clocking in at 21:14.5.

“For who we are, I thought it was a successful season,” Jones said. “I think the other aspect of cross country is that it is a  season in its own but also an upcoming for the track season. The things that we accomplished this season will help us move forward to a successful indoor track season.”

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