Illinois finishes 12th in Greater Louisville Classic

In a meet meant to give younger runners race experience and return a couple of runners coming off of injuries, Illinois men’s cross-country head coach Jake Stewart was satisfied with his team’s 12th place finish in the Greater Louisville Classic meet Saturday in Louisville, Ky.

“I think we did a good job of getting the most out of the opportunity,” Stewart said. “It’s important that the guys come out here and perform at a high level and compete against these teams.”

Illinois ran in a field of 28 teams Saturday. Big Ten opponents Wisconsin and Ohio State took first place and eighth place, respectively. Wisconsin is ranked 11th in the country.

Senior Brendan McDonnell finished first for the Illini at 49th overall with a time of 24 minutes, 59 seconds. Liam Markham, a junior, placed 55th and had the second best time for Illinois, finishing in 25:03.

Saturday was both McDonnell’s and Markham’s first race of the year. Both spent the beginning of the season recovering from injuries — a back injury for McDonnell and a stress fracture in his leg for Markham.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    “I wasn’t as smooth as I wanted to be, but it was a really good first step I think toward the bigger races like Wisconsin (Adidas Invite) and Big Ten (Championships),” McDonnell said.

    Stewart was pleased seeing the upperclassmen getting back into competition.

    “They had very solid openers,” Stewart said. “At no point did I get a sense that either Brendan or Liam were settling; they were moving forward, picking people off, went out very controlled and finished the race moving forward rather than going backwards.”

    For Illinois, Saturday was also an opportunity for some younger runners to get more race action under their belts. Three freshmen — Garrett Lee, Alex Gold and Alex Notten — and one sophomore, Ryan Burgoon, competed for the Illini in Louisville.

    “Each guy did a very good job of performing in a way that they can be satisfied with moving forward, that was the goal,” Stewart said. “For each guy it was important for them to be in this race and see where they are at, knowing what’s coming up.”

    After this weekend, the Illini can look forward to a week off, during which they will prepare for the Adidas Invite at Wisconsin on Oct. 17.

    “The big thing for us as a team is making sure that each guy understands that they need to keep feeling that sense throughout the race of moving forward,” Stewart said. “Not settling, not getting comfortable, being aggressive when they are tired, those are the things that are really going to be important as we move in to some of these bigger races.”

    Matt Gertsmeier can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @MattGertsmeier.