Illinois hosts cross-country meet

After a disappointing finish at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational last week, the Illinois women’s cross-country team has just one more week until the Big Ten Championships on Oct. 30. But before they can turn all their attention toward Big Tens, the Illini have to focus this Friday at the UI Arboretum for their final regular-season meet.

This weekend’s Illini Open will play host to Northwestern, Bradley and SIU-Edwardsville. The timing of the meet is unusual, being just one week before the Big Ten Championships, Illini head coach Jeremy Rasmussen said.

“We put this meet together about three or four years ago for the sole purpose of trying to figure out who those last spots on our conference roster might be,” Rasmussen said. “And to give opportunity for those who might not be at that level yet another opportunity to race.”

Those competing for the Illini on Friday include Megumi Hoshi, Meagan Hynes, Meghan Murphy, Chloe Schmidt and Michelle Stratton. They will compete for the final two spots on Illinois’ Big Ten roster.

“We’ve really had 12 girls racing this year,” Rasmussen said. “We can field up to nine at the Big Ten Championships. Right now, after the weekend, the last two spots are up for grabs. These five girls are running for those two spots, but they also need to impress myself and coach (Adam) Bray to where they’re going to earn that spot on the team.”

The other seven regulars for the Illini will not compete this weekend and instead continue to prepare for Big Tens. Following last week’s last-place finish at the adidas Invitational, the team will run with something to prove at next week’s championships.

“Obviously we were all kind of disappointed in where we finished,” Rasmussen said. “The one thing that I know we need to do is we need to get the legs underneath everybody. We’ve been running a little tired. We’ve been working them really hard because we need to continue to get better, but it’s really time now to let them feel really good.”

After the Illini Open, Illinois will host the Big Ten Championships, which will be followed by the NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 12.

Rasmussen admitted the Big Ten Championships are a distraction heading into this weekend’s meet, but for the five runners competing, Friday’s event is all they’re worried about. The Illini Open marks the final event of the season for those who do not make the Big Ten team.

“Any time you can get out and get another competition in, that’s a good thing,” he said. “We’re such a young and inexperienced group right now, any time we can get out on the course and get better at what we do or learn something to get better at what we do it is only going to be a positive.”