The postseason begins for the Illinois Cross Country Club this Saturday, right here on campus at the U of I Arboretum. For the second consecutive year, the IXC Club is hosting the NIRCA Great Plains Regional. Club cross country teams from around the Midwest will travel to U of I to compete in order to qualify for NIRCA Nationals on November 15. Competing against the Illini are Big Ten foes in Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin, in-state opponents from Bradley, Illinois State and Loyola-Chicago, “Arch”-rivals Mizzou and Washington University, as well as frequent NIRCA challenger Iowa State.
The women race first at 10 AM. Last year, the ladies dominated the meet 24-75 over the Minnesota Running Club. There will be quite a duel at the front between two graduate student frontrunners: Cara Donahue of Minnesota and Illinois’ own Emma Grimes. Donahue won the meet handily last year, but Emma had an outstanding track season and has been on a tear this fall.
Head coach Steve Krauklis said social coordinator Thea Cudnowski, track president-elect Paige Oboikovitz and freshman Emily Foley all are looking improved. Each of them could help fill out the top seven and put together another victory for Illinois. Coach Krauk also said that Anna Piazza and Selena Wallace have made some big strides in the last few weeks, so look for a strong performance from them.
The men race at 11 AM and it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the team standings. Last year, Iowa State ran a great race to put five in the top six and beat Illinois 16 to 43. They went on to finish second at Nationals and they bring back two strong runners. The Illini scoring five has had a much different look this year than last year, and they’ll have a chance to win the meet at home in their second year as the host.
The top returner from last year’s meet for Illinois is Eric de Guevara. After a strong race at UW-Parkside three weeks ago, Coach Krauk thinks he’s poised for big things. Following a stellar debut at Parkside, Matt “Swagmaster” Dini has been running consistently strong workouts after moving up a group. The duo of Dini’s high school teammate, Jack O’Neil, and Jack Morrissey has been looking good in practice as well according to Krauk. Alex Erwin will try to continue his PR streak on Saturday. Since his debut at EIU, Alex has PR’d in the 8K in every meet he’s run in.
Illini athletes are ready to race fresh off of three weeks of uninterrupted training, and the course should lend itself to some fast times. In true Central Illinois fashion, the Arboretum course is almost entirely flat, except for one huge hill that runners first face after the first kilometer. The women run up the hill twice, while the men have to ascend it three times during the race. Both men and women loop around a plot of agricultural fields, but most of the course runs under the trees of the Arboretum grounds.
This is the club’s final home meet (they previously competed at the season-opening Illini Challenge) and the final meet before NIRCA Nationals in East Lansing, Mich. It’s a great chance to come and cheer on the team in their postseason debut and send them off to a strong performance at Nationals. Whether you’re around campus or want an excuse to come back and visit campus, Saturday is a great opportunity to come and cheer on the team! We hope to see you at the Arboretum for the women’s race at 10 and the men’s race at 11.