Illini focused on individual growth at first home meet

By Ashleigh Lefevre, Staff Writer

The Illinois cross country team is set to host its first home meet of the season at the University Arboretum on Friday. The women’s 5K race will kick off at 4 p.m., followed closely by the men’s 8K at 4:40 p.m.

Used as a course since 2003 and having served as the site for the 2011 Big Ten Cross Country Championship, the Arboretum will be used for a different purpose on Friday. This Friday is just a week out from the Big Ten Championships, and head coach Sarah Haveman plans to rest most of her capped runners,  focusing on individual rather than team results.

“We’ll use this race to solidify our Big Ten lineup and give some of our redshirts and developmental kids an opportunity to race,” Haveman said. “Just like us, other teams will use this meet for individually specific goals, whether it be they are one week out from a conference meet or are trying to determine their conference lineups.”

The men’s and women’s teams head into Friday’s race coming off the back of a successful outing at the Bradley Pink Invitational a week ago, where both teams placed third overall.

Once again, the women were led by freshman Madison Marasco, who placed 9th individually, while sophomore Allison McGrath followed closely behind.

Narrowly beaten by Iowa State and South Dakota respectively, Haveman is particularly pleased with the team’s ability to remain consistent throughout the season.

“Our women’s team finished 24th last year at the regions, and this past weekend, we were four points behind the team that is ranked fifth in the region, so the growth in the women’s team has been even a little faster than expected,” Haveman said.

Haveman is equally happy with the men’s performance at Bradley, which marked their first return to the meet since 2015.

“I’m very proud of the guys that have stepped up in the absence of some others — we redshirted a few and had some early adversity to overcome,” Haveman said.

While senior Dan Lathrop led the team with a ninth-place finish overall, Haveman was equally pleased with the likes of juniors Jack Dale and Caleb Hummer for adjusting to the challenging circumstances.

However, with different lineups in mind and new competition, the Illini Open will serve its own set of hurdles to overcome.

With a switch in focus from team to individual performances, Haveman says a good result will depend on each team member’s ability to execute their respective race plans and remain consistent.

Yet the Illini will have geography on their side for the fifth race of their season as well as a home crowd.

“Running at home, there’s definitely a comfort level,” Haveman said. “It will be nice for them to sleep in their own beds, and they don’t have to deal with travel, so we can just get on over there and make it a good day.”

Heading into the Illini Open, Illinois is ranked No. 6 and No. 7 in the Midwest region for men’s and women’s teams respectively, per the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s regional polls.

“Whether it be a workout session or a race, whether we are traveling or not, there’s a cultural piece of who we are and how we approach things that remains consistent,” Haveman said. “Our biggest goal this Friday is to add another layer to that consistency.”

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