Illini men’s cross country heading to Spartan Invite

By Will Most

Illinois cross country’s Sean Pengelly is heading home to Michigan.

His trip back home, however, won’t lead to him relaxing with family, catching up with friends or enjoying the comforts of home. Instead, Pengelly, a transfer student from Michigan Tech, will attempt to follow up last weekend’s team-leading performance — the junior fifth-place finish in his Illini debut — at the Spartan Invite in East Lansing, Michigan.

While his return home won’t be one filled with relaxation, Pengelly is excited to compete again with Illinois. The team finished third last weekend at the Bluegrass Invite in Lexington, Kentucky.

“I think we have a lot to show as a team,” Pengelly said. “We have the ability to surprise a lot of teams out there in our conference and our region.”

Senior Paul Zeman echoed similar remarks about the team.

“This is the best team I’ve been on since being at Illinois,” Zeman said, “Even our younger guys, you could pull their redshirt and they could make a contribution.”

In East Lansing, the Illini will have the chance to showcase that depth by racing a different group than the lineup that ran in the Bluegrass Invite. In fact, two of the best performers from last week, redshirt freshmen Zack Smith and Billy Magnesen, will not compete in Friday’s race. Fellow redshirt freshman Dan Lathrop, however, will race.

“Both of them (Smith and Magnesen) ran really well,” head coach Jake Stewart said. “They opened up their season in a uniform, (running) over 8,000 meters as good as they could have. There wasn’t a need for them to come back and have another go at it.”

The change of runners will allow much of the team to get run the 8,000 for the first time this season, giving Stewart a more accurate picture of what to expect from each runner.

“A lot of what we are trying to accomplish is trying to get whatever rust we feel is accumulated off,” Stewart said. “As we get into October we want to be ready to compete and run.”

While the team views the meet as an opportunity to figure things out, the Big Ten competition should prove to be very tough, with the Illini finding themselves pitted against two top-30 teams — No. 11 Michigan and No. 28 Michigan State.

“We’ll just race and let the chips fall where they may,” Stewart said. “(Our opponents) are not something we spend a lot of time dwelling on. As we get into the later parts of the year that’s probably going to be something that becomes more prominent.”

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