Women’s cross-country finishes last at Illini Open, looks toward Big Tens

With the Big Ten Championships just a week away, Illinois women’s cross-country coach Jeremy Rasmussen declined to use his top runners in last Friday’s Illini Open. And with two of his nine Big Ten roster spots open, he thought this would be the perfect chance to give some of his other runners a chance to win a spot on the roster.

“We put this meet together with the sole purpose of trying to figure out who those last spots on our conference roster might be,” Rasmussen said earlier in the week.

The meet was small and featured only two other teams: Northwestern and SIU-Edwardsville. Bradley also sent runners, but did not compete as a team. The Illini finished third with 65 points behind Northwestern, which swept with 15. SIU-Edwardsville came in third with 60 points. Where the team finished the race, however, was not a big concern to Rasmussen. He was more concerned with the individual performances.

“We had some people do some good things today,” Rasmussen said. “Michelle Stratton and Meghan Murphy had very good days. It was nice to see them improve and (I’m) happy with how they both performed today. The girls showed determination and tried to get to the finish line as fast as they could.”

Stratton finished 17th overall with a time of 19 minutes, 36 seconds. Murphy found herself in a neck-and-neck battle with teammate Meagan Hynes for the Illini’s top spot. In the end, Hynes beat Murphy by less than a second to take 10th overall. Both finished with times of 19:15.

“Just knowing that I could catch her helped a lot,” Hynes said. “She wasn’t that far in front of me and I knew that I should have been up there with her.”

“Very close at the end for those two,” added Rasmussen. “It was nice to see them trying to work together throughout the course of the race.”

Finishing first overall was Illinois runner Amber Stack, with a time of 18:10. Stack, however, was running unattached, so her points did not count toward the team’s total. Also running for the Illini were Megumi Hoshi, who finished 20th at 20:04, and Chloe Schmidt, who placed 32nd at 20:45.

Rasmussen was glad to have the opportunity to see some different runners race this weekend. He wanted to give everybody a chance to prove themselves before Big Tens and the final selection of its roster.

He will take a few days to decide if he will fill his final two Big Ten roster spots or leave them blank.

As of now, the team has seven of its nine spots filled.

Illinois will host the Big Ten Championships at home at the UI Arboretum on Sunday. It marks the first time Illinois has hosted the event since 2001, and the team has been preparing for this meet all season.

“A few of the young ones that haven’t had the experience of going through an entire season showed me that they’re pretty tired,” he said. “So that’s something that we need to keep in mind as we move forward with the rest of the season.”