Men’s cross country disappoints at Big Tens with 7th-place finish

Average wasn’t good enough for the Illinois men’s cross country team.

The Illini finished seventh out of 10 teams on Sunday at the Big Ten Championships. This came as a disappointment for head coach Wendel McRaven and the rest of the Orange and Blue, who were looking for a finish in the top half of the conference. Like many times this season, the start and finish to the Illini’s races were strong, but the middle portion of the race was a rough patch.

“Looking back at the race and how it developed, we got out well but didn’t continue to do so after the first 2K,” McRaven said. “That mental mistake of letting the race get away from us really cost us.”

Sophomore Colin Mickow continued his role as top runner, finishing first for the Illini and improving his 50th-place performance from last year’s Big Ten Championships by finishing 25th with a time of 26:04 on the 5.2-mile course. Sophomores Chris DeSilva and Jim Riddle finished in 29th and 31st, respectively. Freshman Tom Achtien and sophomore Dan Kremske were the other two Illini to score, placing 40th and 41st, respectively. Illinois finished with 166 points.

Wisconsin finished with 26 points to win the team title for the 11th year in a row. Minnesota junior Hassan Mead took the individual title with a time of 25:00.

“The Big Ten ran really fast this year,” DeSilva said. “We needed to step up a little bit and be with the front of the pack, not the middle.”

Mickow was not the only one to see a silver lining due to his strong performance. Last season, the Illini’s top runner finished in 41st place. This year, Illinois’s final runner finished 41st. With a team predominantly made of underclassmen, McRaven found positives in his team’s disappointing performance.

“We didn’t run poorly, just average,” McRaven said. “To (finish in the top half), you got to be better than average, and I still think we got that race in us. We are already talking about what steps we need to make in order to improve, a positive sign that these guys care about each other and care about the team.”

Next up for the Orange and Blue is the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships in two weeks. Held in Springfield, Mo., the meet is the team’s last chance to qualify for the NCAA National Championships. If the Illini want to qualify, they will need a top-two finish at Regionals. At the beginning of the season, McRaven’s goal for the regional meet was a top-five finish.

“If we got out stronger and put ourselves in a better position from the start (at the Big Ten Championships), we would have been racing with guys we should be racing with, not people from the middle of the pack, which would have been very beneficial for us,” Kremske said. “It’s all about racing up to the standards of ourselves. We didn’t race smart enough. Hopefully at Regionals we will.”