Cross-country teams hold court at Illini Challenge

Illinois opened the cross-country season by hosting the Illini Challenge on Friday in the midst of a sweltering heat wave. Enduring temperatures that left spectators sweating almost as much as the runners themselves, the Illini men’s and women’s cross-country teams swept the Illini Challenge at the Illinois Arboretum. With a start-time temperature of 90 degrees, the Illini knew that their first race would be a test.

Illinois’ Alyssa Schneider, a sophomore, won the women’s 4,000-meter with a time of 14 minutes, 24 seconds.

“We weren’t really worrying about our times because of the heat,” Schneider said. “Coach told us we need to be conservative, because it can get dangerous when it’s this hot.”

The Illini’s Katie Porada set a personal record of 14:36, though she ran the race unattached.

“It was more about getting in the effort today,” Porada said. “It’s always nice to P.R.”

With a team score of 15, the Illini women easily bested Hannibal-LaGrange, the Illinois Cross-Country Club and the CU Racing Team.

First-year head coach Scott Jones was pleased with the effort in such difficult elements.

“I was impressed with the team,” Jones said. “The conditions were brutal. In my coaching career we haven’t had conditions that were this extreme.”

The Illini also boasted a winner in the men’s event, the 6,000-meters. Senior Jannis Toepfer posted a winning time of 18:58, seven seconds ahead of teammate Liam Markham. The team finished with a winning score of 19.

“I thought it was a reasonably good day,” head coach Jake Stewart said. “Jannis looked really good. I was pleased with Liam’s performance.”

Toepfer started his senior season at Illinois in style, cruising across the finish line in orange knee-length socks to match his uniform.

“It was a solid effort,” Toepfer said. “I’m happy. It was a good workout.”

The Bochum, Germany, native admitted that he was affected by Mother Nature.

“It was hot, so we were planning on going out rather conservatively,” Toepfer said. “It definitely made it slower, but once the sun went down, I don’t think it was that bad.”

While Toepfer and Markham claimed the top two spots, it was freshman Ryan Burgoon that left a considerable impression on Stewart, with a time of 19:49.

“I thought Ryan Burgoon had a heck of a day,” Stewart said. “For a true freshman to come out and run as well as he did with as much composure as he did, I really thought he had the performance of the day for the guys.”

Both the men’s and women’s teams hope their strong starts will lead to success as the season goes along. They will compete next on Sep. 13 at the Boilermaker Invitational in West Lafayette, Ind.

“For the first meet we just want to establish ourselves and make sure people have us on their radar,” Toepfer said.

While the meet effectively served as a tune-up for the rest of the season, Jones was impressed with his team starting the season strong.

“I think we’ll show steady progress throughout the course of the season,” Jones said. “First meet, new coach, under difficult weather conditions, and they responded like veterans.”

Alex can be reached at [email protected] and @aroux94.