Illinois cross country places second at Illini Open


Angel Saldivar

The Illini Cross Country team runs together while surpassing other opponents during the 2021 Illini Open Oct. 22.

By Renato Arteaga, Staff Writer

The Illini cross country team’s only home meet of the year took place at the University Arboretum on Friday. This year’s Illini Open marks the team’s first home meet in nearly two years.

Participants from both the men’s and women’s programs were limited as most of the top runners did not race at this event, which provided an opportunity to run for many athletes who haven’t had that much running experience in the year so far.

The Illini Open was dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so athletes in both programs had a chance to wear pink attire and dedicate the race to someone who has been impacted by breast cancer.

Senior Ayah Aldadah helped set up the event after participating in a similar one at her previous school, Bradley University, as well as her own experience learning how troublesome it can be to understand what breast cancer is.

“I realized that not a lot of people know the process on how to check yourself for breast cancer, so that motivated me,” Aldadah said. “I know sporting events always raise breast cancer awareness by changing their jersey to pink or having other pink stuff, but I wanted to do more like teaching people how to take care of themselves.”

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    Aldadah helped the cross country program team up with the McKinley Health Center to provide a marketing booth that included an interactive course which shared information about breast cancer. 

    The Peoria native also shared how she has stressed the importance of carrying on this tradition to her younger teammates.

    The women’s team managed to finish second overall with 32 points behind Illinois State’s first place victory (26 points). The Illini had four runners finish in the top five, including freshman Kate Dickman, who ran unattached in the women’s 6k race but still managed to finish in first place with a time of 22:16.0. 

    Junior Katie Hohe placed second behind Dickman with a time of 22:34.0, followed by junior Tracy Towns, who placed fourth with a time of 22:43.6. Unattached freshman runner Amalia Malecek finished fifth with a time of 22:53.8.

    On the men’s side, unattached freshman runner Jake Myers finished second overall with a time of 26:11.1, followed by sophomore Ben Giblin who finished fourth with a time of 26:13.4

    Junior Bennett Melone and (unattached) freshman Evan Cummins were the final runners for the Illini and finished 12th and 15th with times of 26:50.2 and 27:08.7 during the men’s 8k race, respectively. 

    Cummins shared how exciting it was to experience the first home meet of his collegiate career, especially having a chance to see so many spectators show up to see his team compete.

    “You couldn’t have asked for a better environment for an open meet where we’re resting our top guys,” Cummins said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to put a cause behind having all these people here, and being able to have everyone rally around breast cancer awareness this October is something that is important for our team and this university.”

    Many of the top runners on both programs will return to action at the Illini’s upcoming playoff meet: the Big Ten Championships. This playoff matchup is scheduled to take place in State College, Pennsylvania on Oct. 29.

    The women’s team is looking to repeat last year’s playoff success where they went on to finish third overall during the shortened season’s Big Ten Championships, in which they went on to punch their ticket to the NCAA Championships.

    The men’s team is trying to continue to improve after they placed sixth overall at last year’s Big Ten Championships and placed ninth during the prior year.

    Aldadah shared that the women’s team is very excited to return to playoff competition since they’ve been preparing for these three upcoming playoff matchups since the middle of the summer.  

    “Our biggest strength that we have is that we all run for each other, and we’re focused on working hard for our teammates,” Aldadah said. “Today we had pink scrunchies, and we usually wear orange scrunchies. We always look for orange scrunchies, and we always bring that mentality of putting the work in for each other.”



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