Women’s cross country Big Ten roster still unclear after Illini Open

After pacing with the front of the pack through most of the 5K race, Meghan Frigo and Melissa Schmidt were able to pull ahead of three Northwestern runners and be the second and third runners to cross the finish line, respectively.

“I just sat with the pack of Illinois girls, and then just kept building through the race,” Schmidt said. “I saw Meghan going, so I just kept maintaining the gap between us and then closed hard at the end.”

Frigo and Schmidt, both true freshmen on the women’s cross country team, led the 12 Illini competitors as the team tied for first with Northwestern at Friday’s Illini Open at the Arboretum in Urbana. Though women’s cross country coach Jeremy Rasmussen said the two freshmen performed “exceptionally well,” he didn’t commit to the two freshmen making his Big Ten roster.

Illinois will send nine runners to race at the Big Ten Championships on Sunday. Rasmussen is set on seven, whom he rested Friday, leaving only two spots up for grabs. While the Illini Open was meant to aide his decision, Rasmussen said he will take other factors into account as well.

“(Volunteer assistant coach) Jackie and I will have to go back this weekend and sit down and review the entire season over and figure out exactly how everyone has done head to head … Has there been sicknesses, has there been injuries, things like that,” Rasmussen said. “You’ve got to look at probably the top six that crossed the line today for us, and I think taking that into consideration and moving from there is what we’ll probably end up doing.”

While Schmidt has had more experience racing with Illinois’ top group, Frigo led most of the way for Illinois on Friday, finishing three seconds ahead of Schmidt.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had my old racing self back from high school, and I just felt that all the workouts and my teammates pushing me and working together finally pulled through in the race today,” Frigo said.

Senior Maggie Mulchrone (seventh) and sophomore Madeline Aufmann (eighth) finished next after the two freshmen for the Illini, with Aufmann ousting Northwestern’s Allegra Mayer by one second. Freshman Katie Porada was the final scorer for the Illini, who came in a hair shy behind two Northwestern runners, and sophomore Kelsey Seiler followed next. All top six runners recorded personal bests, but Rasmussen added one more to the mix of Big-Ten potentials.

“I think we need to throw (sophomore) Meagan Hynes into that group because she’s made huge strides from last year,” Rasmussen said. “You’ve got to just look for, in a week, who can continue to make good strides as well.”

Nine Illini set personal bests, including freshmen Mary Sullivan, Rachel Irion and Megumi Hoshi.

Kathryn Hague — the sister of Illini junior Stacy Hague ­— won the individual meet, setting a course record with a time of 17 minutes, 36 seconds.

Friday was the third time in a row Illinois captured the meet title, and its first win of the season. Illinois and Northwestern each scored 35 points. However, Illinois’ overall time was two seconds faster, and Northwestern’s sixth runner came in three spots higher.

“Ties are hard,” Rasmussen said. “The only thing I can say is, it would’ve been nice to start off the beginning of the year like this. But this has been a young group, so I think they’ve come a long way from where we first started to today.”