Men's Cross Country Shooting for Spot in 2000 Nationals
Sept. 5, 2000
The University of Illinois cross country team enters the 2000 season hungry and with high expectations. After missing qualification for the NCAA Championships by just one spot for the second year in a row in 1999, the Illini harriers are determined to break that barrier this season and advance to nationals. What will it take to get there? According to Head Coach Gary Wieneke, this year's group must be focused on the team concept.
"Anytime you leave a year where you come close to reaching your goals but don't quite get there, I think that makes a team more motivated to achieve success the next season," said Wieneke, who enters his 34th year in charge of the cross country program at Illinois. "Finishing fourth at regionals has generated new enthusiasm and a commitment to pay the total price. That, coupled with the experienced group we have returning, gives us the opportunity to go further this year."
One of the strongest aspects of this year's team is its internal leadership, led by seniors Ryan Eason and Mike Lucchesi. "Those are our leaders without question," Wieneke said. "I think, at least early on, you'll see Ryan and Mike leading the way and pulling the team along with them."
Eason had a breakout season in '99, running among Illinois' scoring five in five of six meets. He entered the year with a personal 8K best of 25:59 and shattered that on more than one occasion, registering a new career best of 25:05 en route to a fifth-place finish overall at the Pre-Regional Meet.
"Ryan is the key stabilizing factor for us," Wieneke said. "He is the most consistent in performance and attitude day in and day out."
Lucchesi has shown steady and continuous improvement during his collegiate career, culminating at last year's Region V Championships, where he earned All-Region honors with a 16th-place finish overall after running a career-best 10K time of 31.26. He was also Illinois' top finisher at last year's Big Ten Championships.
"Mike is a guy that has just kept at it and worked to the point where now he has made an impact at the Big Ten and regional level," Wieneke said. "That has served as a big confidence booster for him, and will push him to strive for more."
Another runner that has shown promising improvement is junior Justin Mitchell. Mitchell came on strong at the end of '99, finishing third for the Illini at both the Big Ten meet and regionals and owns the third-fastest 8K time on the team of 25:26.
"His season last year was a huge step up and I think that was the catalyst to get him to realize that he can compete well at this level," Wieneke said.
Redshirt sophomore Nick Gow is back in the mix after missing the 1999 season with a leg stress fracture. He is coming off of a successful track campaign where he placed in the 1,500 meters at the Big Ten meet.
"His bounce back with what he accomplished in track and field gives him a confidence level that he hasn't had before at this level, "Wieneke said. "Nick is probably the most fiery, fiesty runner we have, he loves competition."
With 10 letterwinners returning this season, experience is evident throughout the roster. John Kronforst, Dan Horyn, Jason Van Swol, Tim Moran, Caleb Grinter, and Andrew Kurtz make up a group that "have all shown flashes, and now must work on becoming more consistent," according to Wieneke. "They are now seasoned enough to make that jump."
Sophomores Brent Pfeiffer and Aaron Wahls join a talented class of newcomers who earned all-state honors at the 1999 IHSA Class AA state cross country meet. Included in that group are Adam Palumbo (5th) and John Janulis (24th) from state champion Elmhurst York High School, Patrick Bradley (18th) from Downers Grove North, Tim Seiwert (20th) of Maine South, and Ed Umansky (23rd) of Maine East.
"We expect pressure from this group," Wieneke said. "They have all shown, based on high school accomplishments, that they have potential to make an impact."