Illini men’s cross-country team finishes 5th at Big Ten meet

Five years ago, the Illinois men’s cross-country program would have been satisfied with a fifth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships. For the 2013 squad, the hopes were much higher.

The Illini were disappointed with their fifth-place finish in the Big Ten Championships in West Lafayette, Ind., on Sunday. They scored 140 points as a team, placing them four points behind fourth-place Minnesota.  

“It was pretty conservative early on and during the course of the race it picked up more and more as most championship races do,” Stewart said. “We were where we needed to be early. We did a good job of putting ourselves into position to respond through the course of the race. We just didn’t maintain or close any of the gaps that formed in the last third of the race.”

Senior Jannis Toepfer finished sixth overall to pace Illinois with a time of 24 minutes, 31 seconds. The Bochum, Germany., native received first-team All-Big Ten honors for his efforts.

“It was what you would expect from a championship race,” Toepfer said. “You go out conservative, look around. You find your spot. I felt it was fine until around 6k and then it went from really controlled to just really, really fast. I tried to hold on as best as I could. It was a solid race.”

Two other Illini finished in the top 30. Sophomore Liam Markham placed 17th in his first Big Ten championship race with a time of 24:47. Junior Brendan McDonnell, also making his Big Ten debut, finished the 8-kilometer race with a time of 25:08 to take 29th overall. The other two counting scores for the team were redshirt sophomore Tommy King’s 46th-place finish and redshirt freshman Will Brewster’s 48th-place finish. King finished the race in 25:24, with Brewster on his heels at 25:25.

Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin took first, second and third overall, respectively. With the help of four top-10 finishes, Indiana snapped Wisconsin’s streak of 14 consecutive Big Ten conference championships. Wisconsin freshman Malachy Schrobilgen won the individual title with a time of 24:16.

No. 24 Indiana, No. 16 Michigan and No. 7 Wisconsin were the only Big Ten teams ranked inside the top 30 prior to the race. Minnesota and Illinois were ranked Nos. 31 and 32, respectively.

While Illinois was disappointed with its finish, there is still a chance for redemption for the team. The Illini will run in the NCAA Midwest Regional in Ames, Iowa, on Nov. 15.

“It’s not a case where we have to go in and hope we run well because our fitness may not be where it should be,” Stewart said. “We’re ready to run. We’ve just got to go do it.”

Thomas can be reached at [email protected]