Disappointing day sees Illinois women’s cross country place ninth at Big Ten Championships


Sydney Laput

Graduate student Emma Milburn runs during the Illini Challenge against Illinois State on Sept. 1.

By Theo Gary, Staff Writer

On Friday morning, Illinois women’s cross country finished ninth at the Big Ten Championships meet in Ann Arbor. The Illini finished with an overall 210 points, 132 points behind first-place Michigan State. For the first time all season, Olivia Howell (20:48.2), who finished 23rd, did not finish first out of all the Illinois runners. That spot instead belonged to senior and second-team All-Big Ten runner Emma Milburn (20:30.5), who finished 12th.

Other than the top-two finishers, Illinois placed five other runners in the top-100 and three more in the top-150. Senior Ayah Aldadah (21:26.8) finished 56th, senior Madison Marasco (21:35.2) finished 62nd, sophomore Sam Pogtlisch (21:50.2) finished 76th, sophomore Maggie Gamboa (22:03.2) finished 89th, sophomore Halle Hille (22:09.2) finished 97th, freshman Kora Malecek (22:23.3) finished 108th, sophomore Annalyssa Crain (22:24.1) finished 110th and sophomore Tracy Towns (22:59.3) finished 131st.   

Overall, the performance was a disappointing one for the Illini, who came in with Championship aspirations and settled for decidedly less than that.

“The goal coming in as a team was to win,” Milburn said. “And so ninth place is kind of, you know, kind of a hard finish for us. I think we were very capable of winning. And I don’t think any of these teams are way better than us.”

The Big Ten Championships was certainly a step up in competition. Previously the Illini had only faced 2 currently ranked teams — Northwestern and Wisconsin. While in the Big Ten Championship meet field contained five ranked teams.   

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“The Big Ten is a really competitive conference and everyone kind of needs to have their best day in order for you to do well,” Milburn said. “Or else, this thing will happen where teams that kind of like shouldn’t beat you beat you, which I think happened today.”

Illinois star runner, Olivia Howell, who has been the top finisher for Illinois in every other meet, had a disappointing day, barely eking into the top 25.

“Usually me and Olivia are really racing together for most of the race,” Milburn said. “And then she has a really insane kick thats really hard to compete with. So I think today, I think it was just maybe kind of an off day for her. So she really should have been, you know, up there with me.”

But Milburn, the Illini’s top finisher and second-team All-Big Ten recipient, was not disappointed in her result. 

“For me, I knew that in order for us to win, I probably would have to be top-10 or be close to it. So you know, I got 12th. I still think I kind of reached my goal. Being second-team All-Big Ten was exciting,” Milburn said.

This is only one race, one result. There are still more to come. Illinois is focusing on motivation and moving on.

“I think it’s hard to be perfect every meet. And I think we’ll be able to rebound from this,” Milburn said. “We’re gonna, you know, take a day to be upset. And then we’re going to kind of move on, because we still have big goals, you know, to make it to nationals, which we are definitely capable of.”

Illinois’ next race is the NCAA regionals in Columbia, Mo., on Nov. 11. Luckily for the  Illini, they already know the terrain, having raced, and won, in the Gans Creek Classic on the same track.

“We’re just gonna kind of have to go out there and just kind of definitely focus on Northwestern, I would say, that will be our focus of the next race. And we have a pretty good matchup against them,” Milburn said.


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