2013 was transition year for Illinois women’s cross-country

The 100th Illinois women’s cross-country season was a year of transition as the runners became acquainted with first-year head coach Scott Jones.

After being hired the day before the team started practice in August, Jones believed the year was spent developing relationships and trust needed to become a contender in the Big Ten Conference.

“I think that the most critical thing is for a coach to develop a relationship with their athletes,” Jones said. “The biggest thing we accomplished was that solid coach-athlete relationship. I’m more comfortable around the team, the team is more comfortable around me because we now know each other.”

Redshirt sophomore Alyssa Schneider led the way for the team. She was the fastest Illini at the Illini Challenge, Boilermaker Invitational, Notre Dame Invitational, Pre-nationals and the Big Ten Championships. 

Schneider placed eighth at the NCAA Midwest Regional and was the only Illini to qualify for the NCAA Championships. At Terre Haute, Indiana, she ended the season for the Illini finishing 93rd of 253 with a time of 21 minutes, 16.3 seconds.

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Senior Katie Porada won the Illini Open and was named Big Ten Athlete of the Week for her performance.

Jones was proud of Schneider’s season but knows she’ll use that experience to progress even more.

“She has her feet on the ground and will hopefully be able to capitalize on the experiences she’s had in the past and really build on them,” Jones said.

The team did not reach the success Jones had hoped it would reach in his first season as head coach. The Illini failed to qualify in the top half in most of its meets and its only team meet win was the Illini Challenge, a meet against the Illinois cross-country club team. It finished ninth at the Big Ten Championships, and failed to qualify for the NCAA Championships after finishing eighth in the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships

The team was also without junior Chloe Schmidt, who was lost for most of the season due to injury. Redshirt sophomore Britten Petrey was recovering from an injury and failed to get back into regular season grind. She never performed at the level that she usually does.

Both of these runners have taken advantage of the indoor and outdoor track seasons to improve and reach a high level of collegiate competition. The rest of the runners have also take advantage of the increased time with Jones during the track seasons, which is something Jones realizes as an important moment for the program.

“The best, precise moment (of the season) technically didn’t happen during the cross-country season when it was clear that we were coming together as a group,” Jones said. “We’re beginning to do the work that we need to do to succeed.”

Heading into next year, Jones realizes he can’t put out the proclamation of winning a NCAA Championship or even a Big Ten Championship. But he will not sell his team short, as it prepares to compete next year with a closer and more determined team.

“We’re going to be a much better team at the Big Ten level,” Jones said. “We’re going to be a more comfortable group moving forward because there won’t be that doubt of who’s coaching them.”    

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