Groenewoud, Sutherland make season debut in women’s cross country’s 1st major meet

There will be more than usual at stake Saturday for the Illinois women’s cross country team.

While the first three meets served more as workouts and experience for the Illini runners, the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational in Madison, Wis., marks the first race for Illinois to earn points toward qualifying for nationals.

“It’s definitely a bigger meet than we’ve had in the past cause there’s a little more on the line,” cross country coach Jeremy Rasmussen said. “It gives us an opportunity to our final destination, our final goal which is to try and get back to the national meet.”

Saturday’s 6K race also marks the first race for senior Chantelle Groenewoud and junior Kristin Sutherland, the Illini’s only two returning top runners.

Both are expected to provide the necessary firepower for the Illini to finish among the top 10 of the 20 teams competing.

Six teams rank among the top 30 in the nation, which will challenge an Illini team accustomed to being among the top 10 in the nation.

“It’s obviously a transition year from being a well-known team, and coming out, and knowing we’re in the top,” Groenewoud said.

“This year, we don’t know where we are, we don’t know who’s going to be … It’s definitely going to be more of a group thing rather than an individual thing.”

After some inconsistency earlier this season, the Illini will need everyone ready to race on Saturday.

“The hardest thing is getting everyone to have a good race on the same day,” Sutherland said. “Our team in the past has been majority upperclassmen, but this year it’s been all underclassmen … We have a bunch of new potential to do really well, so it’ll be interesting.”

Sutherland didn’t have the luxury of a smooth summer base training because of a strain in her hip that she battled since last track season.

As the expected leader of the overall Illini pack, Sutherland hopes to slowly bring her way back to full-strength once the championship season comes in November.

“I’m definitely not where I was last year,” said Sutherland, who would mostly finish just behind former-teammate and 2009 NCAA National Champion Angela Bizzarri. “I just need to be there by the end of the season, which is kind of what I’m telling myself now. This race, yes it’s important, but it’s not nationals or Big Tens. This race will give me a test to see where I’m at.”