Men’s cross country tests depth while competing at multiple locations

A lack of team depth has not been an issue so far this season for the Illini men’s cross country team.

The extent of that depth will be determined this weekend as the Illini split up between two meets — the Bradley Classic on Friday and Pre-Nationals on Saturday.

Pre-Nationals will be held in Terre Haute, Ind., and will be split into two races.

The Illini will compete in the Blue Race at 11:10 a.m., while the rest of the field will race immediately after in the White Race.

Men’s cross country coach Wendel McRaven will use his current top-seven runners at the Pre-Nationals to compete in a field of 71 teams. He also alluded to the idea that the top seven is subject to change over the next month because of his squad’s depth.

“That top seven might look completely different in a month at regionals,” McRaven said. “There might be six guys at the Bradley meet that might make our Big Ten lineup.”

Juniors Dan Kremske and Colin Mickow will be leading the way for the Illini in Terre Haute.

Kremske is coming off an outstanding performance at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, where he posted a personal-best time and finished 22nd overall. Mickow expects to bounce back after a tough race in Wisconsin where he battled a side stitch.

“I’ve pretty much made sure that won’t happen again,” Mickow said. “It was just a fluke thing.”

Mickow and Kremske will be joined at the Pre-Nationals by juniors Nathan Bohne, Jim Riddle, Phil Pompei and Nathan Troester.

Senior leader Jeremy Stevens will anchor the lineup as well.

On Friday, the Illini will use a separate lineup to compete at the Bradley Classic in Peoria. Most teams would consider this lineup to be their “B” squad, but McRaven thinks differently.

“We have guys that are conference scorers from track season that are going to stick their noses in there and run with Iowa and Iowa State,” McRaven said.

Sophomores Hunter Mickow and Tom Achtien will make their season debuts at the Bradley Classic, running alongside senior Mike Murray, juniors Chris DeSilva and Kyle Engnell, and freshman Drew Bell. Sophomore Jordan Hebert will also be in the mix, looking to improve on previous races.

“I want to run a complete race,” Hebert said. “I feel like with the guys we’re taking, we can roll with the front pack and bring it home.”

The Bradley Classic is an opportunity for the Illini lineup to face good competition in teams like Iowa, Iowa State and Bradley.

It also provides for the Illini to familiarize themselves with a course they will see again before the end of the season; Newman Golf Course, where the Bradley Classic is held, is the site of the NCAA Midwest Regionals.

While some of the team will gain course experience from the Bradley Classic, the other competing Illini will share the course at Pre-Nationals with some of the best cross country talent in the nation, including No. 1 Stanford and No. 5 Northern Arizona.

Stevens sees this as an excellent opportunity prove Illinois’ worth and grow as a team.

“We’re still looking to prove ourselves nationally,” Stevens said. “A finish in the top 20 will help that.”