Illinois women’s cross country wins NCAA Midwest Regionals
November 16, 2019
Illinois women’s cross country won the NCAA Midwest Regional meet Friday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and is heading to the NCAA National meet.
The Illini last won the NCAA Regional in 2006 and have been absent from the NCAA championship meet since 2009.
The title wasn’t the only hardware the Illini brought home. Junior Allison McGrath, junior Rebecca Craddock, sophomore Maddie Marasco and sophomore Emma Milburn all finished in the Top 25 to earn All-Regional honors.
The course conditions were different from what the Illini have been accustomed to this season, with the final two kilometers being extremely hilly.
Illinois’ strategy for races has long been pack-running, and the strategy played out in the results. McGrath led the Illini, coming in 12th place with a time of 20:58.5. Craddock wasn’t far behind with a time of 21:04.4, good enough for 14th place.
“Me and Rebecca worked through the last half of the race together,” McGrath said. “It was super cool to have someone to help push you, especially when the race got super tough. Like in the middle and end parts, it was really awesome to have teammates around to help push me.”
Marasco finished 18th in 21:12.8 and Milburn finished 25th with a time of 21:20.0. Rounding out the scoring for the Illini was freshman Emma Wilson, who came in 39th with a time of 21:42.7 in her NCAA Regional debut.
For Craddock and McGrath, the team has seen a steady increase in results at the NCAA Regional meet during their tenure at Illinois. The team finished 24th at regionals their freshman season and fourth in their sophomore season. Their junior season, though, they are going to the national meet.
“Everyone was really excited,” Craddock said. “A few tears were shed, especially for some of the older girls who kind of have been on the journey from the bottom up. It was just a surreal feeling, honestly.”
Head coach Sarah Haveman thought the regional win was the culmination of the team’s progression during her tenure. One difference is that the Illini didn’t come in the meet as underdogs, instead, they were ranked No. 1 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association regional rankings.
“This is something, you know, has been on our minds and a goal of ours,” Haveman said. “We entered this weekend ranked first in the region, and that was new for us. So, it was a new approach, and it was the same approach, but a new situation for us. The women had to defend their ranking and make sure they showed up.”
Though the course at Oklahoma State posed some challenges to the Illini, the national championship course is one the Illini are very familiar with, and the team has run that course twice this season. Illinois is also geographically the closest qualifying team to Terre Haute, Indiana.
“It’s nice and close to home, so we know we’re gonna have fans,” Craddock said. “Everyone’s super excited, and it’s just great going in, also like winning the region also gives us a little more confidence.”