IXC hosts NIRCA Great Plains Regional

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.

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IXC travels to Wisconsin for Parkside’s Lucian Rosa Invite

This weekend, the Illinois Cross Country club headed north to Kenosha, Wisc., for UW-Parkside’s Lucian Rosa Invite. The meet provided perhaps the club’s biggest challenge yet this season with a difficult course and strong competition. The team responded, with some great performances on the Dannehl National Cross Country Course in front of lots and lots of IXC supporters. By unofficial score (thanks to Beau Barber), the men took ninth of 19 teams and the women took tenth of 22 teams.

The men raced first at Parkside and for the first time this season, the top dog was Jared Ripoli. After running his best race of the season at Augustana, Jared came back with another strong showing of 26 minutes and 29 seconds. Of course, Jared is used to the hills and weaving trails of Kenosha by now after a second place finish team finish last year and two high school appearances at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional held here.

The boys of Lake Zurich cross country know the Parkside course well, as they make the trip up every year for the season opening Horlick Invite, where Austin “Chief Milwaukee” Kuehr and Brian “Sly Bri” Griffin both competed last year. It seemed like their familiarity with the course paid dividends. Both continued to show improvement, and Brian actually ran almost 15 seconds faster here than at Augustana, hitting 28:42.

Another runner making his return to Kenosha was Ryan Somerfield. Ryan last ran at Kenosha as a high school sophomore for the prestigious “Eagle Invite.” It seemed like he felt right at home on the course as had his best race of the season so far, running 27:56, a full minute and 29 seconds faster than Augustana. He feels like he’s finally getting back into shape and it shows.

While several guys were making returns to Kenosha, Tyler Dixon had never raced here before, but he instantly fell in love with the course. I’m not sure how in love you can fall with that first mile, but good for Tyler; he ran 28:43 with his grandparents cheering him on from the sideline.

Jon Hootman looked like he was ready to drink the blood of the innocent on the course yesterday. Despite his embarrassment at not knowing what a charger is, Jonny Hoots put his shame behind him and had a solid performance on Saturday morning. Head coach Steve Krauklis said that the Hotman has been putting in the work and the results showed, he ran 80 seconds faster than last year at this meet.

Krauk said that Eric de Guevara was due for a good race, and he got one this weekend. While Eric expressed concern beforehand about the crowded forest trails, it seems things worked alright for him (maybe by running through competitors’ legs). He ran 26:46 to be the team’s third finisher.

In front of Eric in the two spot was Greg Netols; behind him was none other than David Oskar Choi. David proved that last week’s breakout performance at Augustana, where he finished fourth for the team, was no fluke. It looks like something has clicked for David and it’ll be exciting to see what he can do the rest of the season. Joe “@ZanyZeller” Zeller rounded out the men’s scoring five, followed by Adam Cobert and Michael “One-Speed” Frintner.

Special shout-out to the competitors who made their IXC debut on Saturday morning. Matt “Swagmaster” Dini had a fantastic first race with the club, dropping a 27:52. Danny “Ayala-te” Ayala and Mike Schiable also had solid debuts in their first 8K races with the team.

For the women, the front pack looked excellent. The 1-5 split on the day was 1:05, the women’s best of the season by far. It was a 19 second drop from last week at Augustana, and a huge 35 second drop from the Illini Challenge at the start of the year. This was the first time this season that this scoring five of Emma Grimes, Megan Mocogni, Erin McKee, Heather Guetterman and Lexy Rudofski all competed in, so look for big things as the women’s full lineup prepares for the postseason.

Emma led the way once again for the women with an 18:49 5K, a 28 second improvement from last year. Last year’s meet was Emma’s first time as the women’s top finisher and she has been on a tear ever since. Per usual, Emma had a monstrous kick, even though she thought it was substandard. She will be motivated and ready to go when she gets to race again against NIRCA competition, so the schools headed to Champaign for Regionals better beware.

Behind her was the women’s captain, Megan, with a 19:15, another solid performance that put her 10 seconds ahead of last year. Freshman phenom Erin and savvy veteran Heather finished just a second apart at 19:28 and 19:29, respectively. Fellow freshman phenom Lexy Rudofski finished off the women’s scoring five.

The women had a strong front pack throughout the whole race, about halfway through, Megan, Erin and Lexy were all running side-by-side. It’s a promising top five for the women, with seasoned frontrunners, young freshman standouts, and some serious racing prowess.

But the women have plenty of depth beyond Saturday’s first five. Rounding out the top five were Emma Burkhardt and Thea Cudnowksi. Emma has had a great season so far after putting some serious work in over the summer and Thea has been a model of consistency this year for the women’s squad. Shout-out to Nataly Medlin, who made her debut with IXC on Saturday.

Travel coordinator Monica O’Connor continued her comeback trail at Parkside with an impressive performance. She ran a full minute and twenty seconds faster than last year. And that race comes on the heels of one of the most difficult meets of the year for her to travel-coordinate for, so props to Monica.

Speaking of that travel, a big thank you to all of the families who graciously offered their homes for the team to stay at on Friday night- the Coberts, Ripolis, O’Connors, Kuehrs, Mocognis and Wageners. Special thanks to the Coberts, who in my unbiased opinion had the most awesome accommodations of anyone (I’m still salivating over Mrs. Cobert’s pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies).

Also, thank you to everyone who came out to support the team in Kenosha. It was great to see so many families there to cheer us on. While I can’t remember them all, shout-outs to the Cudnowskis, Frintners, Dixons, Mrs. Hootman, Rudofskis, Shirleys, Ayalas, Medinas and of course, my dear ol’ Dad. We love getting the chance to race in front of our families, so thank you once again.

Now, the team’s attention turns to the post-season and NIRCA competition. IXC will have two weekends off before the NIRCA Midwest Regional, hosted at our own beautiful University of Illinois Arboretum on November 1. It’s our one true home meet of the year and the penultimate race of the season before NIRCA Nationals, so we hope to see you there!

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IXC heads to Kenosha for Lucian Rosa Invite

The Illinois Cross Country Club is headed north this weekend for UW-Parkside’s Lucian Rosa Invite. The club is fielding a split squad again this Saturday after sending some runners to SIU-Edwardsville last week.

Parkside’s Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course is a challenging one. Runners start off with a big hill for roughly the first 800 meters. It’s a true cross country course, winding through forest trails and across rolling hills.

The meet will feature teams from Division 1 through Division 3, as well as the club’s first NIRCA action of the season against clubs from Marquette and UW-Madison. Most athletes have had two weeks of training after Augustana to get ready for Parkside.

The men will race first on Saturday at 10. The top returners for the men from this meet last year are Jared Ripoli and Eric de Guevara. Jared had his strongest race of the season so far at Augustana, look for him to build on that success running on a course he’s familiar with. Eric’s due for a good race this season and his small stature may aid him in darting though competitors on the course’s narrow wooded trails. We’ll also see what David Choi has in store next after a head-turning performance at Augustana. Joe “Zany” Zeller will make his return on Parkside’s hills. Two of the club’s top performers this season, Evan White and Nick Bushelle, won’t be racing this weekend, so guys will have to step up and grind it out on a very tough course.

However, the women should have all their frontrunners when they race at 11. Women’s captain Megan Mocogni had a strong performance here last year and so did Emma Grimes. This meet last year was Emma’s first time as the team’s No. 1 runner, and she has never looked back. They’ll be joined for the second time this year by a few freshman phenoms in Erin McKee and Lexy Rudofsky. Monica O’Connor could have a big day running under her own name for the first time and continuing to come off of injury. She also has the added bonus of spending Friday night in the comfort of her own home.

The team is traveling to the northern suburbs tonight and will travel to Kenosha tomorrow morning. It’s a short drive from Chicago, so we hope to see you there. Men race at 10 and women at 11.

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Several first’s for IXC at SIU-E’s John Flamer Invite

This weekend, the Illinois Cross Country Club split squad and headed downstate to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville’s John Flamer Invite for the first time ever. There were a few of significant firsts on the hilly terrain of the SIU-E Cross Country Course   against strong Division I and II competition.

This weekend marked the first meet in club history that more women competed than men. It’s an important historical note for the team. When things got started, the club was heavily male-dominated, but the female membership has been steadily on the rise and this weekend, the women’s team fielded more racers than the men. Nice job ladies.

A big first came for Evan White on Saturday. Running all by himself on a very difficult, hilly course, Evan broke 26 minutes for the first time, clocking 25 minutes and 59 seconds to garner a 13th place finish for the team. He held his own and the back of his jersey was a familiar sight for several competitors that we had previously seen from Mizzou and SIU-E. It’s another strong performance for Evan after just missing out on a top 35 t-shirt at Augustana (that’s probably what drove him on Saturday.) In all seriousness though, Evan’s been putting in the time (#PITT) and has been on a tear through the first half of the season.

Alex Erwin has been dropping time like it’s his job. After improving by 5 minutes and 25 seconds from EIU to Augustana, Erwin dropped another 90 seconds this weekend. Ilyas Taraki also had a nice race, improving by more than a minute from his club debut at Augustana, this time on a much harder course. It was also the club debut for several members of the men’s team. Brett Barsanti, Tony Gao, Sean McCarty and Alex Shirley all raced with “ILLINOIS” across their chest for the first time. Nice job guys.

For the women, Hannah Smith stepped up and led the way with a good race on the tough course in 25:37.  Shortly behind her, former Nittany Lion Gwenn Porter made her debut for the Illini. She’s a grad student to keep an eye on as we move towards the post-season. She will hopefully be helping us take down her alma mater’s running club about a month from now in East Lansing.

Track Club President Paige Oboikovitz took the third spot for the women, continuing her steady improvement this season. Steve said she’s the kind of runner who gets better and better as the season goes on, so look for big things as we head into the NIRCA competition season. Next up was esteemed travel coordinator Monica O’Connor, making her season debut under a false identity. Monica organized everyone’s departure from campus at 6:15, and even though that’s brutally early for a Saturday morning, she said it was a fun trip and a great bonding experience for the women’s team.

Anna Piazza completed the scoring five, shaving 15 seconds off of her Augustana time on a much more difficult course. Rounding out the top seven was Selena Wallace and Corina Jurczyk, making her collegiate debut with the club. This weekend also marked the collegiate debuts of Megan Frintner and Robin Manarik, as well as the season debut for Nicole Cinquino.

Now, the other half of the team heads to Kenosha, Wis., this weekend for UW-Parkside’s Lucian Rosa Invite. It’s a big meet, with more strong competition and another challenging course. For any club supporters near Chicago, it’s only a little more than an hour drive, so consider heading North and supporting the team!

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IXC rolls to fast times at Augustana’s Brisman-Lundeen Invite

The Illinois Cross Country Club was back in action last week and put together some fast times at Augustana’s Brisman-Lundeen Invite. The race teed off at Rock Island’s Saukie Golf Course and the flat course gave way to some fast times for the club. The men placed eighth of 39 teams and the women placed ninth of 35.

There were a lot of fast performances, but the biggest head-turner of the day was Mr. David Oskar Choi. David was the fourth runner for the Illini with a blazing time of 26 minutes and 29 seconds. Head coach Steve Krauklis said he finally ran the way he should and wow! While most know David as the team’s title-holder for “Most Awesomely Awkward Facebook Pictures,” he showed he really has some serious wheels on Friday. The performance was a huge 1 minute and 41 second PR and one of David’s highest-ever finishes with the team

Before the race, Steve said to look out for Jared and Cobert, and I had noticed the freshman LZ-Boys, Brian Griffin and Austin “Chief” Kuehr, had strung together some nice workouts. The Lake Zurich crew delivered on Friday. Jared had his best race of the season so far as the team’s third runner, running his second fastest 8K ever with a 26:27. Cobert wasn’t far behind in his strongest race of the young season, clocking a 26:40.

The freshman, B-Griff and Chief, also had breakthroughs. Brian said he wanted to break 30 at Augustana; he went and broke 29 while he was at it, running a 28:56, a 2:55 improvement from EIU. Chief dipped under 29 minutes with a 28:56, a huge 3:36 improvement.

Greg Netols was the Illini men’s top finisher and perhaps more significantly, earned a Brismann-Lundeen Top 35 t-shirt with his 28th place finish. Evan White was a few places behind him, tantalizingly close to a t-shirt in 40th place.  Rounding out the top seven were Jared, David, freshman phenom Nick Bushelle, Cobert, and another freshman phenom, Michael Frintner (about 20 places behind Nick, “his rock”).

Every member of my car had a breakthrough performance and ran much, much faster than EIU. The Might Quinn Todzo, the self-proclaimed “Chancellor,” dropped 3:09 from his EIU time in his old racing flats to hit 28:41. Quinn also displayed some bilingual prowess at Maria’s after the race, dropping phrases like “sí” and “gracias.”  Ziggy “Stardust” Zamora dropped 3:09, Jacob Wilson dropped 4:04, and Alex Erwin dropped a whopping 5 minutes and 25 seconds! I don’t think any other cars showed that level of improvement!

Also, shout-outs are due to David Lundline, Steven Orta, Michael Schaible, Ken Sprague and Ilyas Taraki for making their IXC debuts at Augustana.

For the women, it was the first 6K of the year, which will be the standard distance come the post-season. Emma Grimes led the way with a t-shirt-clinching 18th place performance. She was followed by the captain, Megan Mocogni, and freshman star Erin McKee. While Erin had a good day on the course, her most valuable contribution to the team may have been her parents, who came to cheer on the Illini and baked 52 (!) oatmeal chocolate chip muffins for the team. Thank you to the McKee’s!

After track social coordinator-elect Emma Burkhardt finished in the four spot for the women, Lexy Rudofski completed the scoring 5 for Illinois. It was her second race for the club, and second time scoring points. Thea Cudnowski and Hannah Smith rounded out the top seven.

The two women who made their debut at EIU, Anna Piazza and Angela Wu, saw big time improvement. EIU was a 5K and Augustana was a 6K, so comparisons are harder, but Anna averaged 7:23 pace at EIU and dropped that to 7:07 in a longer race. Angela’s average mile pace jumped all the way from 8:48 to 7:20!

Overall, there was improvement across the board for the club. After terrible conditions at EIU for the start of the season, the Illini took advantage of a fast course and started to reap the benefits of their first few weeks of training. The club will split-squad the next two weekends to two difficult courses. Some runners are heading downstate to SIU-Edwardsville’s John Flamer Invite, and some runners will travel to UW-Parkside’s Lucian Rosa Invite.

Also, a friendly reminder to give our own Joe Zeller, @ZanyZeller a follow on Twitter!

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