Illinois men’s cross-country ends season at Regionals

Had Friday’s NCAA Midwest Regional cross-country meet been an 8K instead of a 10K, Illinois would have been preparing for Nationals instead of untying the shoes of another season.

With 2,000 meters left in the race, the Illini were in second place, an automatic qualifying spot for Nationals. However, Illinois failed to maintain that spot for the last bit of the race.

“Through 8K, we were in second place, and you had to either pick up the pace, or you were going to be passed by a lot of people, and I think that’s what happened to some of our guys,” junior Ian Barnett said. “It was a little more tactical toward the beginning, and once it started moving, we didn’t react as well as we could have.”

The Illini took fifth place out of 29 teams in the Regional meet at Bradley in Peoria, Illinois.

Despite missing qualification for Nationals by three spots, head coach Jake Stewart was proud of the way the team ran.

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“I’m really just pleased with how aggressive and confident our guys were in the race plan and how they took it to the race,” Stewart said. “I think it was our best team effort on the year.”

Oklahoma State and Tulsa finished first and second, respectively, locking their spots for NCAA Nationals. Senior Kirubel Errasa of Oklahoma State took first overall with a time of 30 minutes, 9 seconds.

The Illini were led by Barnett, who ran the race in 30:20, earning him a 10th-place finish. Barnett was the only Illini eligible for an at-large bid for Nationals but failed to receive an invitation.

“That was probably the best cross-country race of Ian Barnett’s career,” Stewart said. “He’s come a long way from when he first stepped on campus.”

Seniors Jannis Toepfer and Bryce Basting also finished in the top 20 for Illinois. Toepfer came in 14th, finishing the race in 30:28, and Basting took 17th with a time of 30:33.

Barnett, Toepfer and Basting made the All-Region team with their top-25 individual finishes, a goal Stewart said the team had going into the race.

“I was really excited about it, I was pumped, but the overall goal was to get the team to Nationals, so it’s a little bittersweet,” Barnett said about his All-Regional finish.

Sophomore Will Brewster had the fourth-best time for Illinois, completing the race in 30:54 and achieving a 41st overall finish. Senior Brendan McDonnell, junior Paul Zeman and freshman Garrett Lee finished beyond 50th place for the Illini.

Looking back at this season, Stewart believed his team is running the right course at becoming an elite cross-country program.

“I think we’ve made a lot of really good steps in my three years here,” Stewart said. “We have solidified ourselves as a team each year that can be in a position to get to the national championship. We were really close (Friday) to doing something special, and with 2,000 meters to go, we were in second, an automatic qualifying position. We went out there and tried to make it happen, and it’s probably been a long time since you can say that an Illinois team has done that.”

Matt can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter