The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Jack Roberts proud to represent Illinois cross country on NCAA championships stage

At first glance, a 157th-place finish may not appear to be very noteworthy, but for senior Jack Roberts, his performance at the NCAA championships represented much more than a spot in the final standings. 

“Itʼs not the best performance I could have had,” Roberts said of his 31:07.4 time. “But I was just proud to be there representing my teammates and the school.” 

His teammates gave their full support in return, with many making the nearly 700-mile drive from Champaign to Charlottesville to watch the race and cheer Roberts on.

“It was super cool to see,” Roberts said. “It was a lot of fun having them there.” 

The last Illini to compete in the championship was current assistant coach Jon Davis, who ran in 2021. Davis contacted Roberts before Saturdayʼs meet to wish him luck. Robertsʼ time of 31:07.4 also marks the best by an Illinois runner at the championships since Dylan Lafondʼs time of 30:34.6 at the 2016 championship. 

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    The championships marked the end of a strong season for the program. The menʼs team took first or second in all four of their regular season meets, while the womenʼs team finished in the top ten at both. The teams also secured top-10 finishes at both the Big Ten championships and NCAA regionals.

    A lot of their success could be attributed to first-year head coach Helen Lehman-Winters.

    “She was a huge help,” Roberts of Lehman-Winters. “Her experience with big meets was a total game changer.” 

    Robertsʼ impressive resume included three individual regular season wins, a ninth-place finish at the Big Ten championships, a second-team All-Big Ten nod, a 10th-place finish at NCAA regionals and a trip to the national championship.

    Oklahoma State, with 49 points, captured the menʼs team championship. OSU runners accounted for three of the top 10 finishes in the race. Harvard junior Graham Blanks was the individual champion, finishing with a time of 28:37.7. Blanks is the first Ivy League runner to win the menʼs championship.

    NC State beat out Northern Arizona by a single point for the womenʼs team title. Florida junior Parker Valby set a championship record with a time of 18:55.2 en route to her victory. The previous womenʼs championship record time of 19:19.5 was also bested by both Alabamaʼs Doris Lemngole and Notre Dameʼs Olivia Markezich, who finished second and third, respectively. 

    Many of the team members, including Roberts, will now take a brief break before they begin to prepare for the track and field season, which kicks off early next year.

    “Iʼm going to take like a week off and then get back to it with some basic training post-Thanksgiving break,” Roberts said. “Weʼll be ready to roll in January.” 


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