Schneider leads the way for 2016 Illinois women’s cross-country


The 2015 Illinois women’s cross-country team improved on many of its individual and overall  performances from the 2014 season.

The Illini opened their season by competing in the Illini Challenge, where the team finished first out three teams. Redshirt senior Alyssa Schneider led the way for the team, completing the 5K race in 17 minutes and 43 seconds.

The team then traveled to Normal, Illinois to compete in the ISU Invitational. Schneider again led the way for the Illini, followed by senior Britten Petrey and sophomore Audrey Blazek to round off the top three for Illinois. The team finished third out of nine teams behind Loyola and Illinois State.

After a week off, the Illini returned to competition at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Illini finished ninth, improving nine spots from its 2014’s campaign. Schneider again came in first for the team, claiming a fourth-place finish in a field of 243 runners.

After three weeks off, the Illini returned to action in Louisville, Kentucky for the Pre-Nationals race. Schneider was held out of this race due to a lingering minor toe injury, and head coach Scott Jones wanted to keep Schneider as healthy as possible for the more important races later in the season. The team finished in 43rd place out of 45 teams in what Jones called a “disappointing” race. The Louisville course would also be home to the NCAA Championships race.

The team bounced back at its next race, the Illini Open, at the University of Illinois Arboretum. Schneider was again held out from the race, but redshirt senior Britten Petrey broke 18 minutes for the 5K race and won. The Illini finished third out of eight teams.

The highly-anticipated Big Ten Championships was next on the schedule for the team. Schneider, fresh off her extended rest time, earned herself a third-place finish at the meet and used the performance as momentum heading into the next race. The Illini came in eighth place as a team.

That next race was the NCAA Regionals, where the team hoped to get at least one of its runners to race in the NCAA Championships. Schneider posted a 20:12, good for second overall and a bid to the national race. She qualified for the NCAA championships two years ago and now returned for this season. Junior Valerie Bobart also had her best race of the season, finishing second on the team with a 21:33.

The team’s season was capped off by the best performance of Schneider’s career at the NCAA championships. She completed the 6K race in 20:09, good for 17th place out of the 254 participants. Illinois did not qualify any of its runners for the NCAA championships from last year’s team.

Illinois will return 14 of its 20 athletes from this year’s team for next year. Sophomores Audrey Blazek and Denise Branch and juniors Megan Lemersal, Kim Seger, Hanna Winter and Valerie Bobart all competed in multiple races. They will look to carry the team to a successful next season.

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@mike_mgasick