Illinois men’s cross country takes first in Rock Island

By Will Most

On Friday, three Illinois runners, including two returning from injuries, placed in the top-five at the Brissman-Lundeen Invite to give the Illini their first win of the season.

Redshirt senior Ian Barnett, who was making his season debut after battling a sore glute, took second. Senior Jereme Atchison, who has battled many injuries during his time at Illinois took fourth. Sophomore Alex Gold ran a personal best to take fifth.

“We had a lot of guys up there really early,” Barnett said. “It was great to see Jesse because I really haven’t been able to run with him that often. It kind of reminded me of my sophomore year and his freshman year when we used to run together.”

The Illini’s first victory of the season came from a very different situation compared to their previous meets. The competition featured very few big names and consisted of mostly smaller schools from across the Midwest. The lineup head coach Jake Stewart ran only had one runner who also ran in the Spartan Invite: Atchison. The flat course was a factor, proving to be more friendly to the runners, allowing some to run their personal bests.

While the meet holds very little consequence in the big picture of the season, it did allow the Illini, especially Barnett, to build some momentum as they head towards tougher meets such as the Greater Louisville Classic and The Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, which will pit the Illini against major teams from all over the country.

“This race just confirms that I’m in a place where I’m ready to race and to compete well.” Barnett said.

For Atchison, the invite represented a high point, at least for now. After being the only runner to race in the last two meets, Atchison will likely find himself staying home in Urbana-Champaign as some of his team travels to Kentucky for the Greater Louisville classic. Atchison will train and look to extend his successful stretch that prolonged periods of injury have prevented.

“My main emphasis is going to be to focus back on training, try to stay fresh and get in some solid workouts,” Atchison said. “Then we’ll see what race (I’ll run) after that.”

This finish and the successful competitive debut of both Barnett and Gold, along with the growing success of Atchison offer a lot to look forward to for the Illini. After a relatively disappointing 2014, it appears the Illini have a lot more talent to help them in the tougher meets ahead.

“It’s exciting,” Barnett said “It’s always nice to come off a good race where everyone is feeling good, knowing they can go faster and excited about what our chances are in the upcoming race.”

[email protected]

@Will_Most