Illini’s men's cross-country season highlighted by second-place finish at Big Ten Championships
December 9, 2015
By Will Most
After a few years of struggling to make a name for itself in not only the NCAA but the Big Ten, the Illinois men’s cross-country team had a breakthrough season that ended second place at the Big Ten Championships in NovemberRB.
After a couple smaller events to kick off the year, the Illini started gaining momentum at the Bluegrass Invite hosted by KentuckyRB.
Big performances came from many new faces, including Michigan Tech University transfer Sean Pengelly and redshirt freshmen Zack Smith and Billy MagnesenRB.
Pengelly once again led the Illini in the Spartan InviteRB, and it seemed that he would continue to be the lead man for the Illini.
However, he failed to deliver any performances that would rival his first two.
At the Spartan Invite, it was apparent that freshman Jesse Reiser was going to play a key role for Illinois.
It was Reiser’s performances late in the season, such as his 11th place finish at the Big Ten Championships, that led to the Illini’s strong finish.
His efforts were recognized when he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the YearRB.
“If we are looking on the totality of this fall, we can look back on it very positively,” head coach Jake Stewart said. “We accomplished a lot of things that haven’t been done in this program in a very long time, and you can’t take that away.”
Another key cog in Illinois’ success was Dylan Lafond.
After an extended absence, the redshirt freshman placed sixth in the Greater Louisville ClassicRB and led the way for the Illini to impress in all of their major meets for the rest of the season. Lafond’s best contribution came from his third-place finish at the Big Ten ChampionshipsRB.
But while Lafond performed well at the NCAA Regional Championships, the Illini didn’t keep up the pace they had set at the Big Ten Championships.
The team ended up finishing eighth in a field of 26RB, which meant no National Championship appearance for the Big Ten runner-up.
“I think we were all disappointed,” Stewart said. “I wanted so badly for them to run the way they wanted to run and have the result that we all hoped to have. It wasn’t a lack of effort on their part, sometimes as a program, you’re just not ready to make that next step.”
The Illini did have some individual representatives at the National Championships with Lafond taking 29th and earning All-American honorsRB.