Toepfer ends Illinois career at nationals

By Thomas Donley

Jannis Toepfer’s life has had many chapters. 

Born in Germany, he moved to Japan at the age of 5 before moving back to Germany. Toepfer spent time as an exchange student in St. Louis, and did his undergraduate studies at Delft University in the Netherlands before winding up at Illinois for his last two years of school and cross-country. On Sunday his most recent chapter will come to a close.

Toepfer will run in his final collegiate cross-country race as Illinois’ lone representative at the NCAA National Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., after qualifying by finishing third overall in the Midwest Regional. This is the second time in as many years he has qualified for nationals.

“He’s had a very good career,” Illinois head coach Jake Stewart said. “It would be nice to have him longer than two years, but he’s made the most out of his commitment to this program and his teammates.”

While Toepfer is admittedly “pretty sad” about this being his last cross-country race, he is still focused on the task at hand, wanting to improve on his finish from last year’s nationals.

Stewart believes Toepfer is capable of doing just that.

“Jannis is an intelligent racer,” Stewart said. “He’ll put himself in a position to, I think, be an All-American. If he does that, then he’ll certainly establish himself as one of the finest cross-country runners that the University has had.”

Toepfer finished 64th at nationals last year after being named All-Big Ten for the first time. A top-40 finish this year would make him Illinois’s first All-American since Trent Hoerr in 2007. 

At nationals Toepfer will look to use his experience to his advantage.

“Regionals is always a very tactical race,” Topefer said. “It’s slow and then you go fast at the end, but at nationals, you go from the gun.” 

Stewart is confident in Toepfer’s ability to use his intelligence, along with his physical abilities, to have success in Sunday’s race.

“Jannis is easy to coach,” Stewart said. “A lot of times I’ll ask him what he’s thinking, and we kind of collaborate.”

Toepfer is one of three individual qualifiers from the Big Ten, along with Matt McClintock of Purdue and Caleb Rhynard of Michigan State. Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana, competing in the Great Lakes regional, qualified for nationals as teams. Two teams and four individuals from each regional automatically qualified for nationals, along with 13 teams receiving at-large bids.

After nationals, Toepfer will move on to his final seasons of indoor and outdoor track, in which he runs long distance.

“I’m just really grateful to be here,” Toepfer said of his time at Illinois. “I love the team. I love hanging around with those guys in not only practice, but also my free time. It has been a great time.”

Thomas can be reached at [email protected]