Women’s cross country wins Illini Open, turns focus to Big Ten Championships

After her performance at Friday’s Illini Open, redshirt sophomore Danelle Woods may have landed herself a ticket to race at next week’s conference championships.

In a meet that women’s cross country coach Jeremy Rasmussen said would help him finalize his roster for the Big Ten Championships, Woods’ first-place showing brought back hopes that she would be healthy and ready to go as the Illini enter the homestretch of their season.

“Obviously, Danelle coming out and getting into a good rhythm and feeling good throughout the whole race and really looking smooth is going to be important for us down the road, in the next week at Big Ten’s,” Rasmussen said.

Friday’s race concluded the regular season for No. 13 Illinois, as regionals and nationals follow the Big Ten Championships that take place Sunday.

Illinois placed first in the three-team field, scoring a perfect 15 points with nine of its 13 runners finishing in the top 10.

Illinois State placed second with 53 points, and Northwestern came in last with 69 points.

Woods, who had been battling “setbacks” throughout the season, clocked a 5K time of 18:49 in only her second race of the year. The pace was one she said she hadn’t run in more than a month and admitted the accomplishment was nerve-wracking.

“It’s a good feeling,” Woods said. “I’ve been injured for a while, so it’s really a good confidence booster going into the rest of the season. I kind of knew in the back of my head that (I) can make it through this no matter what.”

Closely following Woods and finishing in the second through fifth spots were sophomore Amber Stack, freshman Madeline Aufmann, freshman Kelsey Seiler and senior Theresa Brokaw, with times of 18:49, 18:50, 18:54 and 18:59, respectively.

“A lot of people finally put it together today and raced at their best ability,” Rasmussen said. “We’re still a ways away from being able to do that every time we come out and race, but I think it’s definitely a huge step in the right direction for everybody that was out there today.”

Most of the Illini runners racing in November’s championship month rested Friday.

Rasmussen hopes the adrenaline left over from the win will carry over into next week.

“From here on out, we want to try and win the next two meets,” Rasmussen said.

“If we can do three in a row and get to nationals with a huge head of steam, you never know what can happen,” he added.

While a win Friday was a necessary step heading into the conference championships, it was not the final step.

Rasmussen said he plans to have his Big Ten roster filled by Tuesday.

He will not only base it off of Friday’s performances, but also the season as a whole.

He stressed that the decision will be difficult, but it will not change the focus for this week as his team prepares for the conference championships.

“We’re being smart about what we do; we’re making sure that we’re taking care of ourselves not only at practice and the work that we’re doing, but also outside of practice and just being smart about things is the idea from here on out,” Rasmussen said. “For Big Ten’s, the money is already in the bank. It’s just a matter of being able get there and pulling it out.”