Illini disappointed with NCAA Midwest Regional finish

For the second time in as many races, the Illinois men’s cross-country team was disappointed with how it finished. 

Coming off the Big Ten meet in which they felt they should have placed higher, the Illini, yet again, failed to live up to their own expectations Friday, taking seventh place at the NCAA Midwest regional in Ames, Iowa.

Illinois finished with 210 points as a team, placing them 53 points behind fifth-place finishers Kansas and Minnesota and two points ahead of eighth-place Missouri. Big 12 champion Oklahoma State took first overall with 45 points.

“I think, certainly, the group felt as though we were capable of finishing much higher,” Illinois head coach Jake Stewart said. “Our expectations were to be in the top three. We felt as though we could be a top three, certainly a top-four team, and it was right there. It wasn’t as though we were completely off. We had to do some things late, and we were in a position to do that late in the race. It just didn’t work itself out.”

Jannis Toepfer qualified for the NCAA Championships, finishing third overall with a time of 30 minutes, 31 seconds. Tulsa’s Chris O’Hare won his second consecutive regional title with a time of 30:28. Toepfer’s third-place finish is the highest at an NCAA regional by an Illinois runner since Trent Hoerr finished first in 2007. The Bochum, Germany, native will run in his second consecutive national championship race.  

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Stewart also highlighted sophomore Ian Barnett’s efforts in the race. Barnett finished 28th with a personal-record time of 31:07, knocking 35 seconds off his previous 10-kilometer best. Stewart said that Barnett bounced back well from the Big Ten meet and that Barnett could be satisfied with the way he ended his season.

Running in his first career 10K race, sophomore Liam Markham finished 52nd with a time of 31:28. To round out the scoring for Illinois, Will Brewster (31:42) and Brendan McDonnell (31:43) finished 63rd and 64th, respectively.  Tommy King finished 72nd with a time of 31:59, and Paul Zeman finished 107th out of the field of 200 with a time of 32:31.

After the race, Stewart did not sugarcoat anything for his team.

“The one thing I think we have to continue to always be is honest,” Stewart said. “I told them that it’s disappointing. I told them that I think we’re a much better team than that, but we just didn’t race the way we needed to.”

Toepfer will run in the NCAA National Championships on Sunday, Nov. 24 in Terre Haute, Ind. Last year, he finished 64th at nationals with a time of 30:27.

Toepfer is excited and feels he is ready but would prefer to not be the only Illinois runner competing in Terre Haute.

“Obviously, it’s a big disappointment that we didn’t make it as a team, but that’s how life goes,” Toepfer said.

Thomas can be reached at [email protected].