Woods returns to competition just in time for cross country postseason

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It’s official. After sitting out for about a year and a half due to injury, Danelle Woods is back, just in time for the Illinois women’s cross country team’s annual Halloween practice run.

At Tuesday’s practice, the Illini carried on their Halloween-week tradition, as they dressed up and ran around campus in costumes. Woods, along with two of her teammates, sported a three blind mice outfit.

But having Woods back for the Halloween event was far from what women’s cross country coach Jeremy Rasmussen expected.

“The whole idea hopefully all year long was hopefully (to) have Danelle ready by the end of the year,” Rasmussen said.

With the Big Ten Championships taking place this Sunday and regionals and nationals down the road, a healthy Woods has filled the vacant fifth-runner roster slot.

The redshirt sophomore hadn’t run competitively for quite a long time. Woods missed all of last season due to a stress fracture. And just when she thought she had recovered, she was held back from competing much of this season with muscle irritation.

Although disappointed at first, Woods didn’t let down.

“I just thought, ‘OK, this is what it’s going to be,” Woods said. “I have to accept it and move forward from there, do whatever I could that was in my power to be back in time for our national meet because I know coach wants me there.”

After witnessing Woods earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year and placing in the top five in most of her meets her rookie year, Rasmussen is confident Woods can help the team win the Big Ten Championship on Sunday.

“She’s proven in the past that she is a very, very good runner,” Rasmussen said. “For us, that’s important because she has the experience.”

For about the past four weeks, Woods had been training on the team’s “special treadmill” and only started to run on the ground three days before she competed at last Friday’s Illini Open, which was only her second race of the season. With postseason looming, the Ontario native proved that her season wasn’t over.

Woods placed first overall and led the Illini to a victory, navigating the 5K course in 18:49. For Woods, the race only boosted her confidence as the team enters its toughest part of the season filled with three championship races.

“I’m not just going to be a girl that’s going to fall behind,” Woods said of Friday’s performance. “I can actually be up there with our top six and not be just another number.”

Three things motivate Woods.

“Just knowing what I am able to do, and the love for the sport, and that my team depends on me,” Woods said. “All those three things combined, you don’t have any room to get down.”

While her teammates agree that Woods’ return will greatly impact the Illini’s performance down the homestretch of the season, Woods also adds a spark.

“She brings a lot of life to the team everyday. When she’s not here, it’s definitely not as energetic” said Woods’ roommate and senior teammate Theresa Brokaw.