7th Place Big Ten Championships
When the 2011 men's cross country season began, the Illini squad had one goal in mind: to be all in and become a national qualifier as a team. With a senior class full of leaders and experience, the Illini took a great step toward achieving that goal. In Gavin Kennedy's first season as head coach, he led the veteran squad with hopes of finishing middle of the pack in the Big Ten Conference and move on to qualify for nationals.
The Orange and Blue saw the first two meets of the season as steps in the right direction after finishing first in the Illini Challenge and second in the Orange and Blue Preview. Illinois captured its seventh consecutive title by finishing first at the Illini Challenge, where seven of the top eight runners were clad in orange and blue. Senior Chris DeSilva took the individual title with a personal-best 6K time of 18:50. The Illini had three of their six runners finish in the top six at the Orange and Blue Preview with Dan Kremske leading the way with an 8K time of 24:25.
Illinois had the chance to preview many Big Ten teams at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational. This was their toughest competition yet as the Illini finished with a solid mid-pack performance of 26th place. Junior Jordan Hebert led the squad with an 8K time of 24:31. Colin Mickow finished second for the Illini and helped round out the scoring. Mickow would end up finishing in the top three of every race he ran throughout the season.
At the Illini Open, the Orange and Blue were led by freshman Mark Donohue who made his collegiate 8K debut with a time of 25:49. In his first race of the season, Graham Farnsworth clocked a personal best 8K time of 26:12. Running unattached was a group of freshman with Tommy King (25:43) coming in second, David Eckhart (25:50) in fifth, Sam Telfer (25:54) in sixth, Paul Zeman (25:55) in seventh, Ian Barnett (26:17) in 11th and Joe McAsey (26:33) in 13th. Since the Illini ran only two attached runners, they were unable to record a team score.
Running three meets at home gave the Orange and Blue the chance to prepare for the Big Ten Championships, which were held on their home course at the UI Arboretum. The Illini were led at the conference championships by junior Jordan Hebert, who clocked a personal-best 8K time of 24:26. The Fighting Illini's seventh place finish gave them the motivation to perform well at the NCAA Midwest Regional.
Senior Jim Riddle and junior Jordan Hebert became only the second pair of Illini to qualify for the NCAA Championship meet from the Midwest Regional. The first pair, Barry Pearman and Jason Zieren accomplished the feat in 1996. Riddle automatically qualified for the national meet by leading Illinois at the Midwest Regional and finishing 12th overall. Hebert joined Riddle by finished second for the Illini and 17th overall. Illinois last qualified an individual in 2007 when Trent Hoerr won the regional title.
Jim Riddle and Jordan Hebert closed out their season by finishing the 10K NCAA Championships race 126th and 140th, respectively. Riddle crossed the finish line with a time of 31:00.3 while Hebert finished seven seconds behind, with a season-best 10K time of 31:07.7. Hebert's performance was just seven seconds away from his personal best set at last year's regional race.
The Orange and Blue had multiple runners step up throughout the season, with Chris DeSilva, Dan Kremske, Mark Donohue, Colin Mickow, Jordan Hebert and Tom Achtien all posting top-five finishes in multiple meets for the squad.