Illini look to become Big Ten champions

By Claire O'Brien, Contributing Writer

Coming off a win at the Illini Open on Friday, the Illinois women’s cross country team is looking forward to the Big Ten Championships on Sunday in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Illini will run junior Grace Rogers; sophomores Rebecca Craddock, Nicki Cast, Allison McGrath and Katie Stapleton; redshirt freshmen Caroline Fix and Mikaela Lucki; and freshmen Madison Marasco and Emma Milburn.

Rogers led Illinois in the Illini Open, and head coach Sarah Haveman said the meet sometimes has the potential to be used for determining spots in the championships.

“There’s tremendous leaders,” Haveman said. “A lot of our sophomores gained tremendous experience last year when they all ran as freshmen, but our lineup will be pretty young. We’ll have a lot of newcomers on the women’s side.”

Craddock said the team is going into the Big Ten meet stronger than last year, when the group finished near the bottom of the pack; according to Craddock, that will not be the case this year.

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“We’ve been running really hard,” Craddock said. “We got high hopes that we can perform better than we did last year.”

The meet may be the farthest from Champaign-Urbana the team has traveled this season, but there’s still a bit of familiarity for the Illini.

This season, Illinois has run against Northwestern in the EIU Walt Crawford Open; Ohio State in the Vanderbilt Commodore Classic and Loyola Lakefront Invitational; and the Big Ten Championships host Nebraska in the Loyola Lakefront Invitational.

The Illini haven’t outperformed the Buckeyes or Wildcats but have finished close to both teams. During the Loyola meet, Illinois’ average was only seven seconds behind Ohio State.

But other Big Ten teams have had strong seasons too, including Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin, all of which are ranked first, second, third and fourth, respectively, in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. Track and Field Cross Country Coaches’ Association poll. Ohio State is sixth in the region, and Purdue is ninth.

Penn State comes in ranked second in the mid-Atlantic regional rankings, and Rutgers and Maryland are 11th and 12th, respectively. Illinois is at sixth, but Northwestern has just slightly edged Illinois out, coming in at fifth in the Midwest region.

Even though the Illini will face tough competition, Haveman has emphasized consistency in practice to capitalize on strong starts and finishing close together in meets.

The team also has begun preparing for the meet by tapering, or running slightly less than average, to feel refreshed for the meet. Additionally, the team has replaced some weight room exercises with medicine ball activities to replenish its energy for the meet.

But despite modifying the workouts to be at peak energy Sunday, the team is going into the meet at full speed.

“Every race has built up momentum,” Craddock said. “Everyone is super excited to see where we’re going to end up after this weekend.”

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