Illini cross-country squads shake off rust in season-opener

By Bob Merlo

In their first race of the season, both the men’s and women’s cross-country teams found success on their home course and optimism for the upcoming season.

The men’s squad won its seventh consecutive Illini Challenge on Friday in dominating fashion. The Illini scored 21 points, followed by Butler in second place with 62 points and Purdue in third place with 75 points.

The race, held at the UI Arboretum, was the first opportunity newly hired head coach Gavin Kennedy had to see his runners compete in an official race. Only having three weeks with his team before the season began, Kennedy was excited to see how his runners would perform away from practice facilities.

“It gave me an opportunity to see where they’re at, doing something over and over gets monotonous, and it’s fun to change things up,” Kennedy said.

Senior Chris DeSilva took the overall victory with a time of 18:50, followed by fellow Illini Jordan Hebert (18:56) in third, Tom Achtien (18:57) in fourth and Nathan Troester (19:08) in sixth.

“It was good rust-buster to get us back into racing in a low-key meet,” DeSilva said.

Led by three freshmen, the Illini women’s team had a promising finish in third place with 76 points. In her debut, Colette Falsey led the team with a 4K time of 15:25, followed closely by freshmen Alyssa Schneider and Britten Petrey.

“We had three freshmen up front leading the way, great to see.” women’s head coach Jeremy Rasmussen said. “Going into it we were just looking to run and get our feet wet and this definitely helped us.”

Both of the squads saw the race as an opportunity to straighten out any early-season hiccups and gain a benchmark of where they stand at this early stage of the year. However, the high heat added a health concern for the runners, for neither coach wanted to endanger his runners in the season-opener.

“I was real happy that all five racers crossed the line,” Kennedy said. “I was happy to win as a team and to get the individual victory, I don’t think of these guys wanted to see someone from another team win.”

With their first event in the books, the runners and coaches are poised to take their training to the next level and begin to compete with stiffer competition.

“This meet closes the door on one part of training, and opens another, now we can get into more specific training,” Kennedy said.

Success in an early September meet is a definite positive for the teams, but they’re both looking to carry that success into the end of October and early November, when the Big Tens and NCAA Championships are held.

“I just want us to do good, stay healthy, and win races,” freshman Dave Eckhart said.