Illinois women’s cross-country prepares for the Bradley Invite

With the Big Ten championships looming, the Illinois women’s cross-country team is racking up much-needed experience

The Illini have two meets before the conference championship begins, with the first coming Friday at the Bradley Invite. The meet will take place at the Newman Golf Course in Peoria, Illinois, and is a style that the Illini are not accustomed to seeing.

Even though the distance is six kilometers, which is longer than normal, it does not faze sophomore Hanna Winter, as she expressed hope that the meet will give her experience heading forward.

“Since we haven’t run many races at this distance yet this season, it will provide me with a very good opportunity to get more experience with running this distance,” Winter said.

Bradley hosts the Midwest regionals this year, and Illinois is looking for a good showing at this race to help the consistency of the team

Last year, the Illini finished 17th of 24 teams at the Bradley Invite.

For Winter, in order to come out with a win, she said that staying with teammates and maintaining a solid pack on a shorter field will make a win more attainable.

The cross-country season is only three months long with only seven guaranteed meets out of eight, but with the meets two weeks apart, there is a lot of time to prepare.

At this point, all of the preparation is going towards Big Ten Championships in Iowa City, Iowa, where the Illini hope to qualify as a team for nationals. Preparation is something which sophomore Valerie Bobart believes the team is doing very well.

“We’ve all been working hard since the beginning of the summer because we know we have the potential to be a great team,” Bobart said. “This season, we’ve done a good job of pushing and motivating each other during tough workouts and because of that we’ve all gotten faster.”

The Big Ten is proving as an extremely strong cross-country conference with four teams being ranked nationally. Michigan and Michigan State are Nos. 1 and 2 in the country, respectively.

For head coach Scott Jones, to win at a championship level, Illinois will have to perform at a championship level as well.

“We are glad to be in a conference that is so competitive and each day it motivates us to work diligently to get better,” Jones said. “We were exposed to that level of competition at the Griak meet. We have improved tremendously since then.”

Not every team has a national championship level runner, but for the Illini, junior Alyssa Schneider has shown why she was an individual qualifier just a season ago.

Schneider has two individual wins this year (Illini Challenge and Illinois State Invite) and a 58th place finish in the Roy Griak Invite, which featured a competitive field.

“This year, her training has been more consistent and at a higher level than last year,” Jones said. “More importantly, she knows what it takes, so her chances are good.”

Schneider is not alone though, as junior Amanda Fox has also had a strong season. Fox has two top-ten finishes and finished 91st at the Griak Invite, where she passed more than 100 runners from her starting position.

Jones believes that Fox, along with the other runners, has an opportunity to achieve something, it just depends on how much they dedicate themselves in the training process and how much they believe.

Only four runners qualify to nationals from non-qualifying teams, so it is important that the Illini qualify as many individuals as possible, in case they don’t qualify as a team.

Alex can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @awallner93.