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Men’s cross-country runs away from competition at Indiana State

B.+Magnesen%28290%29%2C+Z.+Smith%28293%29%2C+A.+Gold%28287%29%2C+G.+Lee%28289%29%2C+D.+Lathrop%28288%29%2C+and+J.+Atchison%28284%29+crossing+the+finish+line+together+ahead+of+the+other+teams+at+the+Illini+Challenge+2015+at+the+Arboretum+on+September+4.
B. Magnesen(290), Z. Smith(293), A. Gold(287), G. Lee(289), D. Lathrop(288), and J. Atchison(284) crossing the finish line together ahead of the other teams at the Illini Challenge 2015 at the Arboretum on September 4.

B. Magnesen(290), Z. Smith(293), A. Gold(287), G. Lee(289), D. Lathrop(288), and J. Atchison(284) crossing the finish line together ahead of the other teams at the Illini Challenge 2015 at the Arboretum on September 4.

The Daily Illini File Photo

The Daily Illini File Photo

B. Magnesen(290), Z. Smith(293), A. Gold(287), G. Lee(289), D. Lathrop(288), and J. Atchison(284) crossing the finish line together ahead of the other teams at the Illini Challenge 2015 at the Arboretum on September 4.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

As expected within the program prior to the meet, Illinois men’s cross-country took care of business Saturday, winning the John McNichols Invite, hosted by Indiana State in Terre Haute, Indiana, behind strong performances from the six-man roster. Redshirt junior Zack Smith led the way, finishing with an 8K time of 25:19.20, which was good for second place overall among all participants in the five-team field.

“We went in with the expectation that we wanted to win the meet, not really knowing what the field would look like (or) who was going to run from other universities,” head coach Jake Stewart said. “We just felt that it was still a very winnable race.”

The Illini finished far ahead of the competition, recording 22 points. Indiana State (54) and Louisville (57) rounded out the top three with Butler (88) and Evansville (133) finishing fourth and fifth in the men’s division.

“It’s a much tougher course than we saw the previous week, so we wanted to be patient and allow our strengths to be the dictating factor in how we ran,” Stewart said.

Four of the meet’s top-five times were recorded by Illinois. Smith was followed by junior Billy Magnesen (25:28.60), freshman Jack LaLonde (25:33) and senior Alex Gold (25:38.30). Seniors Joe Cowlin (25:51.50) and Garrett Lee (26:30.90), respectively, placed eighth and 14th overall.

Louisville junior Daniel Fleace (25:13.90) narrowly edged out Smith by less than six seconds to claim the individual meet title.

Over the last 3,000 meters, Stewart noticed Smith’s “confidence building in the decisions he was making and how he was running the race,” and Smith even briefly overtook Fleace in the final stretch.

“At no point did we ever feel like he was in a position where it was just him hanging on (throughout the race),” Stewart said. “He was very active and responsive.”

Those who did not compete Saturday trained alongside the women’s team. Stewart and volunteer assistant Hunt Craig traveled to Terre Haute as assistant coach Sarah Haveman and volunteer assistant Nolan Fife stayed with the rest of the running groups.

In the evening, the men and women’s teams were introduced on the field after the first quarter of the home football game at Memorial Stadium; however, they left early because of practice the next morning at Allerton State Park in Monticello, Illinois.

Illinois does not compete this upcoming week, and the team returns to action in the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown meet, hosted by Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts, on Sept. 22.

Eight members of each team will travel to Boston, but in the meantime, the program is focusing on getting ahead in schoolwork, in addition to adding “race-specific elements of training” with back-to-back travel weeks approaching, as the following week the Illini compete in Louisville, Kentucky, for the Greater Louisville Classic.

“We’ve certainly held athletes out, knowing they will compete in Boston,” Stewart said.

The men’s roster is practically set for Boston, whereas on the women’s side, there are a “few determinations left,” which Stewart expects his staff to finalize by this weekend.

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