Team bonding brings victory at Midwest Regional

By Claire O'Brien

Regional Recap

The Illinois women’s cross country team ran to a fourth-place finish at Friday’s NCAA Midwest Regional meet. The team as a whole saw a lot of improvement this season despite the Illini running only freshmen and sophomores.

Sophomore Allison McGrath finished improved from 133rd to 18th and led the Illini to a fourth-place team finish. 

I just feel like the meet went really well for us as a team so that was super exciting,” McGrath said. “We have been working super hard all season, and I feel like that was evident in the race.

The Illini also ran a young team consisting entirely of freshmen and sophomores. Head coach Sarah Haveman felt the team rebounded from the Big Ten Championships, where the Illini finished in 12th out of 14 teams and freshman Madison Marasco didn’t finish the race.

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We had Allison McGrath just have a phenomenal performance and lead us,” Haveman said. “Marasco, a true freshman after not finishing the Big Ten Championship, was able to pick up all-region honors. Rebecca Craddock has been solid the entire season. It was a full team effort.”

Craddock said that the team was, in part, motivated by last year’s performance.

“We were 24th last year, and we were pretty upset with that,” Craddock said. “To come back and jump 20 places was incredible. Everyone was super happy and excited with it.”

The Season

The Illini said team chemistry has been part of their success this season.

Starting with their annual trip to Galena, Illinois, the team has done different team building activities throughout the season. The team unveiled “BAB books:” little notebooks teammates leave encouraging notes in. Sophomore Rebecca Craddock said the books have made the team environment more positive.

McGrath said she feels like the team is closer this year compared to last year. That has translated to more success on the course, she said.

“Our team chemistry is super strong this year,” McGrath said. “I feel like that has to do with why our performances have all been better this year.”

Craddock said the team has been gaining confidence throughout the season, especially when the team performed better than expected.

Haveman said the team is also seeing strong leadership from a matured sophomore class, which she thinks has helped their success.  

“Our sophomores have served as tremendous leaders this year,” Haveman said. “While they’re just sophomores, they have done a wonderful job reinforcing our culture and leading us along.”

As the team’s maturation developed over the course of the year, they said they felt more confident about upcoming meets and especially felt more confident about the NCAA Championships results.

“We just kept building off of each race,” Craddock said. “It really turned out well for us.”                                    


The Illini have a strong freshman class anchored by Madison Marasco, who led the Illini both in her collegiate debut at Vanderbilt and at the Loyola Lakefront Invitational. Marasco said the team was close-knit and supportive during her first visit to Illinois. Both qualities were important to her in her college search.

“When I came here, I knew I made the right choice,” Marasco said. “Everyone is so kind, everyone is understanding of each other and that’s one of the big reasons I came to Illinois.”

The Class of 2022 was also Haveman’s first full recruiting class at Illinois. Craddock initially committed to the University of Dayton but enrolled at Illinois when Haveman was hired.

After Friday’s meet, the team feels optimistic about the program’s future. With every runner returning next season, the team is planning to build upon their successes in the future.

“I think we’re really going in a great direction,” Craddock said. “It puts a lot of confidence on our team.”

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