The Illinois Cross Country Club had a fantastic weekend at NIRCA Nationals in East Lansing, Michigan. The men took 3rd and the women took 2nd, while the men in the B race won with a dominating performance and the women in the B-race took second. All in all, IXC put together its second best performance of all-time at Nationals, it’s the first time that IXC has placed in all 4 of the races held at Nationals.
Men’s B Race
The men’s B race kicked off the action on Friday with a balmy race-time temperature of 28 degrees. The Illini showed off their depth, placing 7 in the top 15 and winning the race 29-63 over Michigan. Illinois has won the men’s B race every year it has been run. However, no Illinois runner had ever won the B race, until Saturday. Ryan Somerfield changed that with a wire-to-wire win at Forest Akers Golf Course. Somerfield got out with the front pack and never looked back, leading the race nearly the entire time. Almost as impressive as Ryan’s race was the dark moustache he grew out for “Must-Nationals 2014.” While he had had smaller-scale breakthroughs at UW-Parkside and Regionals, this Saturday showed that his training with the club this year has paid off.
Shortly behind Ryan was a strong Illini pack that dominated the B race. Jack O’Neil came through in 27:55 for a 4th place finish. Right behind him was Michael “One-Speed” Frintner. Two seconds behind him was grad student Henry Wolf, finishing 8th in his final cross country race. The Illini had 3 more honorable mention All-Americans with Jack Morrissey, David Choi, and Michael Schiable. Schiable had one of his best races of the year with a 28:21, to bring home a fancy NIRCA certificate.
Two weeks after they ran well at home, both Sean “SMB” Bruyere and Sean McCarty put together more strong performances. Big Sean, back to racing just in time for the post-season and fresh off a show-stopping rap on Friday night, dropped his seasonal PR like he was dropping rhymes. He improved by 14 seconds in only his second race of the year. McCarty built on his performance at Regionals on the cold snow-covered course. Both should be able to carry their momentum into track season and the future.
“E-Ticket” “Sweaty Eddy” Martinez blew the team’s mind on Friday night with his rap skills, manicured a fantastic mustache for the meet and had a strong showing of the season at snowy Forest Akers. Fellow freshman Alex “Don’t Call Me” Shirley had his best race of the year at the biggest meet of the year. He ran nearly a minute PR, dropping a 46 seconds at MSU on a course that was running slow.
Women’s B Race
Ryan’s individual championship and the awesome showing by the men in the A race got the ball rolling for strong performances the rest of the day. The women in the B race ran to 2nd place, their highest-ever finish in the three years of the B race, and their first time placing in the race. Right after Ryan won the men’s B race, Lauren “Locho-Cinco” Choi took second place in the women’s B race. It was a good day for the Choi family, as Lauren’s younger sister Alex took the final honorable mention All-American spot in 15th place.
The Illini had two other runners in the top 15 of the B race, two seniors running their final cross country races. Track president Paige “Pobo” Oboikovitz took sixth and travel coordinator Monica “Monty” O’Connor took 9th. Thank you to Monica for doing an awesome job putting together the whole trip to Nationals, none of the club’s stellar performances would’ve been possible without her.
Rounding out the scoring five for Illinois were freshman Nataly Medina in a very strong race, dropping 55 seconds off her Regional time and Gwenn Porter, who helped keep her alma mater’s team (Penn State) off of the podium. Right behind Gwenn was a tight group of Hannah’s in Hannah Behle and Hannah Smith.
The girls had strong performances across the board. Coach Krauk highlighted performances by Allison Gibson, Selena Wallace and Kalina Gajda, a member of the famed 15-passenger Nationals “supervan.” This year marked the most Illini women to ever compete in the B race at NIRCA Nats.
Men’s A Race
The men’s and women’s A races featured the best Illinois finishes since 2011. It is only the second team in club history that the men and women both earned trophies at Nationals, and far and away the second-best finish for the club in the 9-year history of Nationals. The front pack of the race was dominated by a senior and grad-student-heavy Indiana team, but the Illini men executed their plan to claim a trophy.
As he has all-season, Evan White led the way for the Illini with an 18th place. Behind him were two strong top-25 performances from sophomore Jared Ripoli and freshman phenom Nick “Broshelle” Bushelle, the only two runners to run Nationals as freshmen for the club. Jared improved by 28 places from his Nationals debut last year. Bushelle went on a tear at the end of the race and was running down Jared in the final straightaway to finish in 26:50. Nick also had one of the team’s strongest mustaches all season, but unfortunately shaved a few weeks before Nationals.
Adam Cobert ran the way he did all year to be the team’s fourth finisher. Cobert started off methodically and turned it on in the race’s second half to move up to 47th place. Just behind him was El Presidente, Eric de Guevara to finish the scoring five. Three of that five return next year. Watch out NIRCA.
Women’s A Race
Emma Grimes and Megan Mocogni were expected to have strong races to lead the Illini women. The biggest stand-out in the race was a fantastic pack of Emma Burkhardt, Erin McKee and Lexy Rudofski in the three, four and five spots. This tight-knit group stayed together for the whole first half of the race and then all moved up even more to help bring home a trophy for the women. Emma Burkhardt built on her performance at Regionals as the no-doubt No. 3 women, and freshmen phenoms Erin and Lexy went out at a more controlled pace and took 49th and 51st overall.
Emma Grimes took second, and though she didn’t hold that place until the final straightaway, I don’t think there was any doubt that’s where she’d finish after she put herself in the mix of the front pack. Emma ran a very smart, strategic race. She ran with the chase pack and stuck onto the No. 2 runner’s shoulder because she knew her trademark monster kick could take down any competitor at the end.
Right behind her, women’s captain Megan Mocogni took 10th place, working her way up throughout the race and edging a Penn State runner by just half a second to claim the final top-10 spot. Thea Cudnowski continued her consistency by running well in her final cross country race, dropping a 25:32. The second place finish gives the women’s team their second trophy in club history, and second-best ever finish at Nationals. They also return three of their scoring five, so look out.
Overall, it was a fantastic weekend for the club team. In the nine years of the NIRCA National meet, this was IXC’s second best performance of all-time, behind only a team championship sweep in 2011. The work paid off for the Illini this year and the future is bright.
None of the performances would have been possible this weekend without the great parent volunteers who took the time to drive the team to East Lansing. Shout-out to Mr. Zeller, Mr. Krauklis, Mr. Kibler, Mrs. Piazza, Mrs. Guetterman, Mr. Kennedy/Dad, Mr. Bushelle, Mr . and Mrs. Mocogni, Mr. and Mrs. Cudnowski and Mr. and Mrs. Bruyere. The trip wouldn’t have been possible without you. Thank you to all who have supported the club this cross country season. It’s been one of our most successful ever, and a big part of it is thanks to those who are there cheering us on and offering encouragement. Thank you for your support, and see you in track season.