Women’s cross country hopes to make a leap in this weekend’s meets

Head coach Scott Jones hopes new practice technique will be a stepping stone toward the Illinois women’s cross-country team’s success this weekend.

“We’ve been knocking on the door for a while with many runners and now is the time to make that jump,” Jones said.

The team will be competing in both the Bradley Classic, which will be held in Peoria on Friday, and pre-nationals on Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind.

It has been two weeks since the last time the Illini have run in a meet. During that time, Jones has implemented a series of sophisticated techniques to his practices. His techniques involve showing discipline in the paces the runners train in, being able to shift gears and being aware that there can’t be moments of running too fast or too slow.

Jones said the technique was difficult, but the team was able to get it at the first attempt. The runners have responded positively to the change.

“We’re all kind of learning together,” sophomore Alyssa Schneider said. “I do like the new coaching style, though. We start off conservatively and are able to push on when we need to during the race.”

Jones is looking for a more complete team race in both meets. After two meets, it is hard to develop confidence, but he believes the team is slowly developing to a point where they can be competitive.

The top-seven runners from the Notre Dame Invitational — seniors Katie Porada and Stephanie Morgan, sophomores Alyssa Schneider, Amanda Fox, Britten Petrey, and freshmen Hanna Winter and Audrey Blazek — will be participating in the pre-nationals meet on Saturday. Jones is hoping some of his runners will be on the cusp of a top-10 finish, one of whom is Stephanie Morgan.

“I think that this is a big meet for her,” Jones said of his senior runner, who will be running her second meet of the year after missing the first few meets due to injury. “She will be able to run pain-free and she will be somebody who will a difference for the team in the contribution of points.”

It will also be the second meet of the season for Porada. She missed the first few meets of the season while questioning whether she would be able to balance college athletics and academics. She ultimately decided that she could bear the challenge.

“It was in my heart to race this season,” Porada said. “I decided that it would be best for me to be out there.”

There will also be seven runners competing in the Bradley Classic on Friday. Juniors Rachel Irion and Chloe Schmidt, sophomores Michelle Frigo and Natalie Wynn and freshmen Valarie Bobart, Kim Seger and Megan Lemersal are the mixed group Jones will watch to help him determine who will be a part of the nine runners in the Big Ten Championships in two weeks.

“It’s a good thing to have this opportunity to have all these runners compete and help us see who will help us compete later on,” Jones said.

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