Illinois cross country finishes fifth at NCAA Midwest Regional, awaits fate for nationals qualification

Runner+Jon+Davis+runs+in+the+lead+during+the+NCAA+Midwest+Regionals+on+Nov.+12.+The+Illini+placed+fifth+during+the+meet+and+Davis+qualified+for+the+NCAA+Championship.+

Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Runner Jon Davis runs in the lead during the NCAA Midwest Regionals on Nov. 12. The Illini placed fifth during the meet and Davis qualified for the NCAA Championship.

By Renato Arteaga , Staff Writer

It was a cold and rainy day in Iowa, but that didn’t stop the Illini from giving it their all. 

The Illini men’s and women’s cross country team took home fifth place at the NCAA D-I Midwest Regional playoff meet.

This year’s regional playoff match took place in Iowa City on Friday and marked the first time in nearly two years that the event took place after getting canceled last year due to COVID-19.

Graduate student Jon Davis and junior Olivia Howell took home All-Region honors as the first finishers for the men’s and women’s team, respectively. 

Davis earned a runner-up finish in the men’s 10k race with a time of 30:21.7, while Howell placed 24th overall during the women’s 6k with a time of 21:17.80.

This season’s fifth-place finish marks the men’s team’s highest regional finish since 2017.

Sophomore Tyler Cushing played a big role in helping the men achieve this after placing 27th with a time of 31:01.09 as his team’s second finisher. 

Junior Jack Roberts and senior Colin Yandel followed behind, finishing 47th and 49th with times of 31:34.34 and 31:36.78, respectively. 

Freshman Nicolas Dovalovsky rounded out the top five for the men’s squad, placing 85th overall with a time of 32:19.55. 

Yandel, who was this year’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award recipient, shared how exciting the program’s future looks, but he admits it will take some work to make sure they’re continuing on the right track to perform down the line.

“The future is looking really bright,” Yandel said. “Obviously, its going to be a big adjustment because Jon (Davis) isn’t going to be around forever getting second place, but we’ll be working toward the future and continue bringing these guys into the culture of our program.”

One of the biggest keys to his team’s success at the regional meet was their teamwork, which is something head coach Sarah Haveman has been preaching all season, Yandel says.

“We were running against some of the best today,” Yandel said. “It was really about going out there, remembering who I was doing it for, which is my teammates, and staying focused on what we’ve been working toward together.”

On the women’s side, senior Emma Milburn placed 37th overall with a time of 21:28.73. 

Graduate students Alison McGrath and Rebecca Craddock also finished in the top five for the women, placing 41st and 46th with times of 21:31.69 and 21:33.81, respectively. 

Like the men’s team, the women’s experienced veteran runners received a strong contribution from a younger underclassman that helped them secure their fifth-place finish.

Freshman Annalyssa Crain placed 44th with a time of 21:33.42 and finished as the Illini’s fourth fastest finisher during one of the biggest races of her young collegiate career.

At the team’s prior playoff meet, the Big Ten Championships, Crain placed 17th with a time of 21:11.0 as the Illini’s top runner, which helped them place sixth overall and ultimately advance to regionals.

Crain shared how much she’s enjoyed feeling like an “underdog” this season since she entered this year with few expectations. She believes this mentality has helped her thrive in high-pressure situations like this year’s regional playoff meet. 

“Coming into this year, my goal was to just make the traveling squad,” Crain said. “I definitely accomplished that, and I’ve been a scoring runner all season, which is more than I was expecting. Honestly, it was kind of exciting to be the freshman with unknown expectations.”

Crain also admitted she had mixed emotions after the meet finished because she believed everyone on the team ran well and did their part, but not everything “clicked” for them.

“We still fell a little bit short of our goal,” Crain said. “We were all a little bit disappointed, which is to be expected. We were fifth, and they were first as a team in 2019, and we were hoping to make it to nationals again.”

The NCAA Championships will showcase all the top teams from each region squaring off against each other for a chance at the cross country championship, but both programs will have to wait until the qualifying teams are announced before they officially learn their fate. 

The Division-I cross country championship selections are scheduled to be announced on Saturday at 4 p.m. 

Afterward, the NCAA national championship meet is scheduled to take place on Saturday, Nov. 20 in Tallahassee, Florida.

 

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