Illinois women’s cross country finishes first at Gans Creek Classic, Howell consistently dominant

By Theo Gary, Staff Writer

Through three meets, the Illinois women’s cross country team has yet to be anything but the best. In Columbia. Mo., Friday morning, the Illini placed first in the Gans Creek Classic. Olivia Howell (20:21.1) once again finished an individual first, while Emma Milburn (20:34.5) was just behind in fourth.

Illinois finished the meet with an aggregate 54 points, six ahead of second-place finisher Lipscomb, eight ahead of third-place Northwestern and 47 points ahead of fourth-place Minnesota.

First place finishes over higher level competition are, for cross country, building confidence in the team and as individuals.

“It definitely gives us confidence beating these nationally ranked teams,” Howell said. “But also just knowing our own strength within the races outside of competing against these other teams. You know, the work we put in in practice.

The key to that confidence is just how good, how talented, the team feels they are. Cross country head coach Sarah Haveman has emphasized that the best way to bring out that talent, to finish first in those meets, is togetherness.

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“Coach (Haveman) knows that we’re a pretty strong group of girls,” Howell said. “And she knows, the best way that we perform is, once again, when we look for each other for strength throughout the race.”

Individually, however, it’s discipline and focus that will get the Illini where they want to go.

“I feel like during these past few weeks, and throughout the season, we just try to stay disciplined and stay focused. And just working with our coach to reach our goals,” Howell said.

Cross country is chasing an appearance at the national meet, something they missed last season, coming in 5th in regionals and therefore not qualifying. This year, however, the Illini have an advantage. The University of Missouri hosts the regional this year and runners will be competing on the very same Gans Creek course.

“Just familiarity and comfort,” Howell said about perks of running on the Gans Creek course before regionals. “Knowing some of the ins and outs of how to approach different parts of the race and knowing what to think in certain areas of race.”

Besides Howell and Milburn, Illinois had seven other top-100 finishers. Sam Poglitsch (20:53.2) finished 13th, Halle Hille (20:53.2) finished 15th, Madison Marasco (20:59.4) finished 21st, Kora Malecek (21:31.4) finished 43rd, Maggie Gamboa (21:32.4) finished 45th, Aya Aldadah (21:38.9) finished 53rd and Annalyssa Crain (21:57.5) finished 76th.


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