Jannis Toepfer qualified for the NCAA Championships for the second straight year.
Dec. 26, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- After a successful 2012 season, the Fighting Illini men's cross country team had high expectations for 2013. In his first year at Illinois, head coach Jake Stewart led the program to its highest Big Ten Championships finish in 16 years, and the highest NCAA Midwest Regionals finish since 2002. Even with the loss of two letterwinners from last year's squad, including NCAA Championship participant Hunter Mickow, Stewart believed the young team could build upon last year's success.
The Illini opened the season with their ninth consecutive Illini Challenge title. Six Illini placed in the top-10, including individual champion Jannis Toepfer. Liam Markham, Tommy King, and Ian Barnett rounded out the top five for the squad.
Two weeks later, another group of runners made their season debuts at the Boilermaker Invitational. Newcomer Brendan McDonnell placed ninth overall in his varsity debut, while Sam Telfer, Paul Zeman, Will Brewster, and Luke Carroll placed in the top-25 to lead the Illini to a fourth place finish.
After two strong showings to begin the season, the Illini entered the USTFCCCA national rankings for the first time in over 15 years, holding the No. 30 spot for two straight weeks.
The squad then traveled to South Bend, Ind. to compete at the Notre Dame Invitational, the squad's only five-mile race of the season. The Illini faced 10 nationally ranked teams to finish 12th among the 27-team field, while Toepfer led the way with a sixth-place finish.
After a brief break, the Fighting Illini were back at it for a pair of meets Oct. 18-19. One group competed at the Bradley Classic in Peoria, Ill., while the other traveled to Madison, Wis. for the Wisconsin adidas Invitational. In Madison, the Illini faced their toughest competition of the regular season, with 20 nationally ranked opponents among the 35-team field. The Illini finished ahead of No. 21 UCLA, No. 22 Minnesota, No. 24 Georgetown, No. 26 Florida, No. 27 Dartmouth, and No. 30 Arizona State to place 19th. Six members of the team set personal best times at the 8K distance, including Toepfer, who led the Illini with a 28th place finish and ran the fourth-fastest 8K time in school history. At the Bradley Classic, Luke Carroll clocked a personal-best to lead the Illini with an 11th place finish.
In the last meet of the regular season, three runners represented the Orange and Blue at the Illini Open. Sam Telfer earned Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Week honors after placing second overall to lead the Illini.
Illinois began the championship portion of the season on Nov. 3 at the Big Ten Championships in West Lafayette, Ind. The Illini finished in fifth place, with Topefer, Markham, McDonnell. King, and Brewster scoring points for the squad. Toepfer led the way for the Illini, earning All-Big Ten honors after placing sixth overall.
Two weeks later, the Illini traveled to Ames, Iowa for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships. Illinois finished in seventh place, with Toepfer, Barnett, Markham, Brewster, and McDonnell scoring points for the squad. Toepfer earned All-Region honors and qualified for the NCAA Championships for the second time in his career. His third place finish was the highest for an Illini since Trent Hoerr won the individual crown in 2007.
Toepfer represented the Illini at the NCAA National Championships, marking the third consecutive year that at least one individual from the squad has qualified for the national meet. The Bochum, Germany native ran the 10K race against 253 other competitors and finished 115th with a time of 31:25.5.
With only two seniors graduating from this year's squad, the Illini will return eight runners with postseason experience. Ian Barnett, Liam Markham, Will Brewster, Brendan McDonnell, Tommy King, and Paul Zeman all competed at regionals this season, while Sam Telfer and Jereme Atchison competed at the 2012 NCAA Midwest Regionals.