Women’s cross-country wraps up season


The Daily Illini File Photo

Valerie Bobart competes in the 1 mile run during the Orange & Blue Meet at Armory on Feb. 20, 2016.

By Danielle Williams, Staff writer

The Illinois women’s cross-country team ended its season with a 14th place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional.

The team had many accomplishments, but with those came some hardships.

Head coach Scott Jones said that even though it wasn’t a perfect season, his team exceeded his expectations

“We enter every season with a spectrum of expectations that range from reasonable to fantasy, so it’s almost impossible to exceed them all,” Jones said. “From a performance standpoint, I feel this team achieved what we could reasonably expect to achieve. Certainly, we surpassed our projected finish at the Big Ten meet, which was a significant achievement in our defining competition.”

Last season, the Illini finished in third place at the Big Ten meet and placed 17th at the NCAA championships.

The Illini needed a new leader of the pack, and the team found her in redshirt junior Audrey Blazek.

Blazek defied the odds by coming off an injury and starting right back where she left off.

“Blazek showed tremendous growth as a competitor and even greater growth as a team leader,” Jones said. “Her improvement is a testament to consistency. I relied on Audrey’s leadership throughout the season and she never let me or the team down.”

Another upperclassman who consistently finished in the top two for the Illini was junior Denise Branch.

Branch came in as the second runner for the team at the NCAA Midwest Regional and at the Big Ten championships.

“(Denise) has really stepped up this year. She evolved into a runner that I knew I could count on in each race and in each practice,” Jones said. “Like Audrey, Denise also became more comfortable as a team leader for the cross-country team and as a bridge to the rest of the track team.”

There were eight meets this season, two of which were in the postseason.

Illinois started its season off with the Illini Challenge, where it came in last out of three teams.

The team fared better at the Country Financial ISU Invite.

With a team score of 66, Illinois placed third. Senior Amanda Fox, Blazek and Branch led the Illini, each finishing in the top-10.

At the Roy Griak Invite, Blazek led the team for the second time in a row, and Illinois took 24th out of 34 teams.

The team won its only title of the season at the Iowa Regional Preview. Blazek took first on the team for the third-consecutive race, while Branch set a new personal record of 21:39.3.

Branch led the Illini at the Bradley Pink Classic, taking 15th while the team finished in 10th.

Illinois placed 10th at the Big Ten championships in Minneapolis, and Blazek led the team with a 46th-place finish, setting a new personal-best time of 22:28.2. The time beat her previous best by nearly a full minute.

Ending the season at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Iowa City, Iowa, senior Valerie Bobart was the team’s top finisher. She recorded a personal record of 21:14.5.

In February, Illinois was named a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American Academic team. The Illini accumulated a GPA of 3.50, which was the fourth-highest team GPA in the Big Ten.

“The meta-memory will be that of this group learning about each other, hashing out their differences and developing into a supportive, caring team,” Jones said.

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