Men's Cross Country 2010 Season Outlook
Aug. 31, 2010
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The 2010 men's cross country season looks promising, as they return a more experienced squad equipped with a great deal of potential. Sixth-year coach Wendel McRaven aims to finish in the top five in the Big Ten Conference, and then move on to qualify for nationals.
"Our real goal is to be at our best at the championship time of the year," McRaven said. "Since I've been here the best we've finished is sixth in the Big Ten. After looking at previous results, this really appears to be one of our better teams."
The Illini boast a deep roster, with many individuals who have the potential to earn top spots in the conference and be contenders come the championship time of the season.
"We're pretty fired up about how good this team can be," McRaven said. "I hate to put limits on it because only time will tell how good we can be."
Junior Colin Mickow returns as Illinois' front-runner this fall. In cross country, the Princeton, Ill., native earned All-Region honors and missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships by just 1.6 seconds. During the spring on the track, Mickow placed third in the 10,000m run at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships with a time of 29:10.74, which is the fifth-best time in Illinois history, and took the silver medal in the event at the NACAC under-23 championships. McRaven believes Mickow can place in the top ten in the conference this season.
Colin's twin brother, Hunter Mickow, who redshirted last year due to injury, shows a lot of promise due to his success before injury. The twins ran right with each other before Hunter's injury, and McRaven views the pair as being leaders for the Illini.
Seniors Jeremy Stevens and Mike Murray also return to the squad for their final season of eligibility. Stevens redshirted last year because of injury, but was one of the top Illini runners two seasons ago, pacing the Illini effort at the 2008 Big Ten Championships. Murray found success on the track last season, but missed the majority of the cross country season due to a foot injury.
"If we can keep Stevens healthy into late October and early November, he'll be a key runner for us," McRaven said. "He may be the most talented guy we have in that group."
The majority of the team is the junior class, who all show a lot of potential. Kyle Engnell returns after a successful track season, scoring for the Illini at the Big Ten Championships in the steeplechase for the second-straight season with a seventh-place finish.
"Chris DeSilva is right on the cusp of being in the conversation for top 15 to top 20 at the Big Ten Championships," McRaven said. "Jim Riddle is a grinder and has had a great summer training. Nathan Troester also has the potential to finish in the top 20 or top 25 at the Big Ten Championships."
Tom Achtien finished third for Illinois last year at the NCAA Midwest Regional in the 10K and fourth at the Big Ten Championships in the 5.2 mile race. McRaven says he needs to find consistency throughout the season.
Running in a highly competitive conference, the Illini hope to stay healthy and be at their best when championships season hits.
"We have nine or 10 guys that have the skills to finish in the top 25 or top 30 at the Big Ten Championships," McRaven said. "We need to show the same type of progress we made in track last year. To be really good as a runner you have to take ownership of your running, and these guys are starting to figure that out."
The Illini kick off their season at home with the Illini Challenge on Sept. 3, then head to Normal, Ill. for the Illinois Intercollegiate Championships.
"The Illinois Intercollegiate is another stepping stone for us in our training and preparation for the big meets later on down the line," McRaven said. "We want to win that meet."
The team then heads to Madison, Wis., to compete in the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, which they competed in last year.
"The real first test for us will be the meet at Wisconsin," McRaven said. "It's the same course as Big Tens so we'll have a few more Big Ten teams there that want to be there to preview the course, just like we do."
Indiana State hosts Pre-Nationals on Oct. 16, which will give perspective on where the Illini are at during the season. A week later, Illinois returns home for the Illini Open to close out the regular season.
"Pre-Nationals is the best regular season meet in the country," McRaven said. "The level of competition is tremendous. It's a good chance for us to have a final tune-up before the championship time of the season."
Wisconsin hosts the Big Ten Championships meet on Oct. 31, and after that the Illini will head to Peoria, Ill., for the Midwest Regional on Nov. 13.
"The season that really matters starts on October 31 with the Big Ten Championships," McRaven said. "The goal is to move up the ladder there, then we have our Regional meet in Peoria, where we hopefully can propel ourselves to the national meet."
With a returning squad that has a lot of depth and potential, the Illini aspire to build on the progress they made in the previous season, and ultimately qualify to compete at the NCAA Championships.
"It's going to matter who stays healthy, who progresses, and who goes into the championship time of the season with confidence," McRaven said. "Anything can happen."