Illinois women’s cross country searches for identity at Notre Dame Invitation

The Illinois women’s cross-country team remained in the middle of the field as it continued to search for its team identity.

Entering the meet, head coach Scott Jones hoped to learn more about his team and see how it would compete against the other teams in the region and the Big Ten.

The Illini finished 15th in a field of 24 at the Notre Dame Invitational on Friday in South Bend, Ind.

Sophomore Alyssa Schneider hoped for a top-10 finish at the meet. She ran for the team’s best time at 17 minutes and 30 seconds, good for 17th place. Schneider has finished with the team’s best time in every meet this season.

Senior Katie Porada helped score points for the Illini, as she ran for the team’s second-best time at 17:42, placing 29th overall in her first race of the year.

“Katie overcame some first-race jitters to have a really solid debut race,” Jones said.

Sophomore Amanda Fox finished third among the Illini and 63rd overall with a time of 18:06, while senior Stephanie Morgan finished fourth for the team (130th overall) at 18:47 in her first meet of the year.

“This was a positive step for Stephanie, she was healthy and able to get that first race under her belt,” Jones said. “She’s only going to get better as the season progresses.”

Jones said he learned much after the first meets of the season and learned more after this meet as well.

“We learned that we have a group that can be right in the mix of the top level,” he said. “We haven’t completely put it together yet, we still need to work on some things to put together a whole team race.”

Freshmen Hanna Winter and Audrey Blazek ran their first 5K at the collegiate level. Winter finished with the team’s fifth-best time of 18:52 and Blazek had the Illini’s sixth-best time at 19:11. Sophomore Britten Petrey followed at 19:31 with junior Chloe Schmidt at 19:21 and sophomore Natalie Wynn at 19:30 to finish it off for the Illini.

Before Friday’s meet, Jones hoped his young runners would gain some confidence and realize they are able to compete with the other top runners in the nation.

“Hanna (Winter) really stepped up,” Jones said. “She’s going to continue to improve as our season progresses.

“Britten (Petrey) is coming off an injury, but she’s been working really hard and she’s going to be up there by the end of the year as well.”

No. 2 Florida State placed first at the meet with 77 points, and Duke’s Juliet Bottorff won the individual title with a time of 16:43.

The 24-team field featured eight nationally ranked teams in all.

The Illini will rest and train for two weeks before they compete in both the Bradley Classic in Peoria, Ill., on Oct. 18 and the prenationals meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Oct. 19.

Michal can be reached at [email protected] and @bennythebull94.