Illinois women’s cross country wants a statement win in Peoria


Sydney Laput

Illinois women’s cross country head coach Sarah Haveman speaks with the team before the start of the start of the women’s 5k against Illinois State on Sept. 1.

By Theo Gary, Staff Writer

Illinois women’s cross country is undefeated, unbeatable, and frankly, untouchable so far this season. The team’s top-runner – senior Olivia Howell – places first in just about everything. Sophomores Maggie Gamboa, Sam Pogltisch and Halle Hille form a phalanx of underclassmen who augment Howell’s star power with strong finishes of their own. 

It’s a talented team. It’s a deep team. They’re winning a lot, and there’s no sign it’ll stop. 

Next up on the schedule is Peoria, Ill., and the Bradley Pink Classic. For the Illini, it’s a new track and new terrain. Peoria is a place they haven’t been, not since 2019 when they finished 3rd behind Bradley and South Dakota. Those were days long ago, and Illinois returns to Middle-Illinois with a totally different team (save Katie Hohe, the only runner left from that 2019 meet).    

Given the transient nature of college sports, it’s impossible to compare two teams in two different years. So much changes, so many people leave; coaches are fired, athletic directors come and go and yet the Bradley Pink Classic keeps chugging along. The grass keeps growing in Peoria and the groundskeepers keep cutting it back. 

Except for this Friday, none of that matters to the Illini, not the grass, not the grounds, not the drive, not the food, not the hotel. None of it. Because, unlike when they visited Columbia, Missouri on Sept. 30th, they won’t be back.   

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“You know, going into Missouri what we wanted to focus on was a different type of race style,” Haveman said. “So we really tried to remain patient and then close very, very hard. So that worked well for us. So we’re just looking to diversify the way we can run races and how we approach those races as a group and as individuals.”

The aforementioned Howell, the premier individual of Illinois women’s cross country, is winning, and is flat-out being the biggest, strongest and ultimately fastest engine in the train that is a cross-country team.    

“That’s gonna be the goal (placing first),” Haveman said. “Every race that we enter, I think that’s something that she’s capable of being and doing. And she’s really finding herself on the course. Which, of course, I knew she was capable of, but she’s developing her confidence and also the workload to be able to do that.”

Besides winning, what can you really do in a meet? Nothing, if you’re thinking literally. But when the broader picture comes into view, when hearts and minds are taken into consideration, when the Illini are ranked 29th in the national coaches poll … Well, maybe it’s best to make a statement.  

“I want to see a lot of plays and a lot of confidence, knowing they can run many different ways. And I’d like a little bit of a statement this Friday,” Haveman said. 


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