Men's Cross Country Season Preview
Aug 23, 2013
Champaign, Ill. --The Illinois' men's cross country team will be guided by second-year head coach Jake Stewart, who saw the Illini make big strides last season. The Orange and Blue placed fourth at the Big Ten Championships, the best performance in 16 years, and recorded the highest NCAA Midwest Regionals finish since the 2002 season. The squad also sent two individuals to the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive year.
"We have a pretty large group of athletes coming back," Stewart said. "Looking at the group that ran at the Big Ten Championships and the Regional Championships last year, we only graduated one athlete, and another athlete used his last season of eligibility but will be returning in the spring. We have a really good nucleus of guys coming back."
The Ilini lost two letterwinners, including NCAA Championship participant Hunter Mickow. Returning for the Orange and Blue will be Jannis Toepfer, who scored points for the Illini in each race he competed in last season. Toepfer and Mickow were the third pair of athletes in school history to qualify for the NCAA Championships. After a redshirt season last year, redshirt senior Graham Morris will also run for the Illini.
"We have a senior upfront in Jannis Toepfer, who qualified as an individual last year to the NCAA Championships and finished 64th, and he was All-Big Ten," Stewart said. "So he's going to be looked to as a guy to lead by example. Another upperclassman that we have coming out of a redshirt year is Graham Morris, who is a school record holder indoors in the mile, and was an All-American in indoor track. He redshirted last fall and the plan all along was to get him ready for his senior year, in both cross country and outdoor track. So we do have two upperclassman who we're going to be able to rely on."
Also returning for the Illini will be redshirt sophomore Tommy King and redshirt freshman Ian Barnett, who each scored points for the squad at the Big Ten Championships last season. Barnett is coming off of a fourth place finish at the Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championships, where he ran a 5k time of 14:10.02.
Sophomore Jereme Atchison and redshirt sophomore Sam Telfer return to the squad after competing in both the Big Ten Championships and NCAA Regionals last season, while sophomore Liam Markham and redshirt freshmen Will Brewster and Luke Carroll look to contribute this season after redshirting last year.
Illinois begins the season at home on August 30 with the Illini Challenge, where the team will look to capture the meet title for the ninth consecutive year. Two weeks later the Orange and Blue will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., the site of the 2013 Big Ten Championships, for the Boilermaker Invitational.
"If you go down the schedule this year compared to last year, the only real difference is that September date, when we're going to Purdue," Stewart said. "With our close proximity to West Lafayette, it makes sense for us to get over there and get on the course to see what we'll be racing at the Big Ten Championships."
Illinois has a busy October, competing at the Notre Dame Invitational, Bradley Classic, and Wisconsin adidas Invitational, then ending the regular season at home with the Illini Open.
"Notre Dame will be the first big test for us in October," Stewart said. "Two weeks later we'll have probably our biggest test of the season at Wisconsin, and that will lead us into the championship part of our season, with Big Tens, Regionals, and Nationals."
Postseason competition begins on Sunday, Nov. 3 with the Beg Ten Championships in West Lafayette, Ind. Less than two weeks later, on Friday, Nov. 15, the Orange and Blue travel to Ames, Iowa for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships. The top two teams at regionals will automatically advance to the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
"Our group of athletes made vast strides last year.," Stewart said. "Coming out of the summer of work the group has been able to put together, and with the way our schedule is set up this fall, we're confident that we can continue to move forward, continue to compete to our fullest ability and get better throughout the course of the fall."