Sophomore Colin Mickow became the first Illini to earn All-Region honors since Trent Hoerr in 2007.
Dec. 15, 2009
When the 2009 men's cross country season began, the Illini squad had one goal in mind: to make progress toward becoming a national qualifier. With a sophomore class full of emerging leaders alongside experienced veterans, the Illini took one step closer to becoming that team. The Orange and Blue made strides toward becoming a team that will be ready to compete for an NCAA Championships bid in 2010.
"Despite the fact that the guys might feel like they did not meet their goals performance-wise, we made some positive steps this season," cross country coach Wendel McRaven said. "We made some things happen to show our growth, and we implemented our training in order to develop some consistency amongst the team to build on in the future."
Illinois started off the season strong with a first-place team finish at the Illini Challenge. The squad finished six of its runners in the top 10, keeping their point total low at 17. Following the Challenge, a strong second place showing at the Illinois Intercollegiate propelled the Orange and Blue into the upcoming meets.
The Wisconsin Inter-Regional marked the first meet of the year where the Illini faced top competition from around the country. The squad finished sixth out of 13 teams and six of the Orange and Blue ran personal-best 8K times. Among those six Illini was Colin Mickow, who placed first for the squad as he did all season, with a personal-record time of 24:39.
Later in the season, the squad split up to compete at both the Bradley Classic and the Pre-Nationals meet. The Illini placed ninth at the Classic, where freshman Jordan Hebert finished first for the team with an 8K time of 25:33. The other half of the squad traveled to Terre Haute, Ind., to compete at the Pre-Nationals meet. Mickow led the Orange and Blue to a 17th place finish out of 35 teams.
"When we split up to go to Bradley and Pre-Nationals, that was a weekend when we did a great job of showcasing the depth of our roster," McRaven said. "We had some things to work on for the remainder of the season, but these two races really showed the maturity of our squad."
Two weeks later, Illinois traveled to University Park, Pa., for the Big Ten Championships looking to improve upon its ninth-place finish in 2008. The Illini finished seventh out of the 10 competing teams, progressing toward their goal to place in the top five. Mickow, Chris DeSilva and Jim Riddle led the Orange and Blue at the meet, finishing 25th, 29th and 31st respectively.
The Illini closed out the season with the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships where Mickow earned All-Region accolades after placing 18th amongst the 174 total competitors. Mickow is the first Illini to earn the honor since Trent Hoerr in 2007. With his performance at Midwest Regionals, the Princeton, Ill., native missed qualifying for Nationals by 1.6 seconds. He led the Orange and Blue to a 10th-place finish overall to close out the 2009 season.
"Colin made a lot of very positive improvements throughout the season," McRaven said. "He improved 25 spots at Big Tens, 54 places at Midwest Regionals and became an All-Region competitor. He has become a great inspiration to the other guys on the team.
"Guys like Colin Mickow, Tom Achtien and Chris DeSilva are all runners to watch out for on the team next season. You see the type of strides they made from last season and it shows the type of competitors they are. These are the kinds of guys you want on your team."
As Mickow led the Illini throughout the season, red-shirt freshman Tom Achtien came back from an injury and became an immediate contributor to the Orange and Blue travel roster. DeSilva also made an immediate impact on the squad as well, running second or third for the Illini all season.
"The guys have taken ownership for their team this season," McRaven said. "They care about each other and have all of the qualities that a coach wants to have in his team. The positive team dynamic that they have built over the past two years helps them competitively and will be very beneficial next season."
When the 2010 cross country season begins, the dominant sophomore class will be experienced veterans who will be stepping into new roles as leaders. This factor mixed with the progress that the team made in 2009 will all contribute to the goal of a bid to NCAA Championships.
"This season, we took another step up the ladder," McRaven said. "Next year, we can set the bar higher because we will be better. We want to continue to see the guys improve through the track season and from there, we can start to make preparations for 2010."