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Karen Harvey begins her fifth season as the head coach of the Illinois women's cross country team with a collection of new and experienced runners poised to lead the Orange and Blue to its first conference championship and to top its program-best fifth-place team finish at last season's NCAA Championships.
The fourth season with Harvey at the helm of the program was the most successful in program history as the Illini finished fifth at its second-ever appearance at the NCAA Championships and collected a second-place showing at the Big Ten Championships, three All-Big Ten performers and one All-American accolade.
After a strong regular season that saw Illinois prove itself at the Hawkeye Invite, Illini Pack-It-Up Challenge, the Notre Dame Invitational and the Pre-National Meet, Harvey's squad was in full gear when the postseason rolled around.
At the Big Ten Championships, the Illini turned in the best performance in school history, placing second overall and returning to Champaign with three All-Big Ten honorees in Cassie Hunt and Stephanie Simms (first team) and Katie Engel (second team). Hunt made history when she won the individual title with a time of 21:00.54 to be named Big Ten Athlete of the Year and Championships, making her the first woman in Illinois history to earn an individual title and the first Illini in history, male or female, to receive the conference honors since the awards started in 1987. Simms was Illinois' second individual to cross the finish line as she placed fourth overall, a showing that improved on her 2004 championship performance by almost 90 seconds. Engel rounded out the Orange and Blue's top-three finishers with a 13th place finish (21:37.49). Engel's impressive debut performance was honored with the Big Ten Freshman of the Year accolade.
A few weeks later the Illini raced into the record books with a fifth-place finish at the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. The meet marked their second-straight berth to the championships. At the meet, all seven Illini runners recorded personal bests. The Illinois pack was led by Hunt, who finished 11th with a time of 20:05, good to earn All-American status. Simms finished 37th overall and second for Illinois, just shy of also earning All-American honors.
The Fighting Illini finished the 2005 season ranked 14th in the final national rankings.
The Illinois distance crew in track has also shown tremendous improvement during Harvey's reign. In 2004, Hunt became the first Illini to earn All-America honors in the 3,000m steeplechase. The following season Hunt was an indoor All-American in the 3,000m and won the steeplechase and 5,000m at the outdoor conference meet as the Illini went on to win the 2005 Big Ten Championship with the distance runners piling up 36 of the team's 135 points. In addition, Hunt was named the Athlete of the Year and Athlete of the Championships.
Two seasons ago, Harvey coached the Illini to a number of program firsts in the 2004 cross country season, including competing at the NCAA Championships, attaining a national ranking and having an individual win the NCAA regional race. In addition, the Orange and Blue had its highest Big Ten finish in 20 years and personal best times were set nearly every weekend.
At the 2004 Big Ten Championships, the Illini turned in the best performance in school history, tying for second place with Hunt leading the way with a fifth-place finish (21:09). Hunt's performance at the conference meet, at the time, was the second-best finish for an Illini at the meet.
At the 2004 NCAA Regional meet, under Harvey's tutelage, Hunt became the first Illinois woman to ever win an individual regional championship while leading the Illini to the NCAA Championships, running 20:21 to set a personal best, course record and school record. Her performance earned her the Midwest Regional Runner of the Year award. At the meet, all six of their top runners set personal bests as the Fighting Illini finished in second place with 93 points, the highest Illini showing since a second-place finish in 1984.
In her second campaign, Harvey's Illini made tremendous strides, posting a number of program firsts. Under Harvey's guidance, Hunt had the finest season ever for an Illinois freshman. Hunt was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the first Illini to ever be so honored, became the first Illinois freshman to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Harvey's squad had an outstanding race at the NCAA regional meet, placing third, a finish that was an eight spot improvement over the previous season.
While Illinois' in-season performances have noticeably improved since Harvey's arrival, some of her most outstanding efforts have been on the recruiting trail. Already considered one of the region's top developers of talent, Harvey has inked several of the top recruiting classes nationally in her short time at Illinois and has the future of Fighting Illini track and cross country looking bright.
Harvey came to Illinois from the University of Michigan, where she served as the women's volunteer assistant cross country and track and field coach.
Before her two seasons with Michigan, Harvey enjoyed an impressive professional career that included a No. 1 world ranking in the 3,000 meter steeplechase in 1998. A nine-time member of Canadian National Teams, (three world cross country teams) Harvey is the former Canadian record holder in the 3,000m steeplechase with a time of 10:14.27 and finished fifth at the 1998 Goodwill games in the event. In 2000, Harvey was the top Canadian 1,500-meter runner after clocking a time of 4:16 at the Boston Indoor Games.
An All-American for the Wolverines in cross country and on the track, Harvey competed from 1991-95, placing 21st at the 1992 NCAA Cross Country National Championships, while also earning first team All-Big Ten honors in 1992 and 95. In track, Harvey finished eighth in the mile at the 1994 NCAA Indoor Championships and fifth in the 3,000 meters in 1995.
A 1996 graduate of the University of Michigan, Harvey received her B.A. in anthropology. She was also a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree while winning the 1995 Scholar Athlete of the Year award.
Born Aug. 9, 1972 in Brantford, Ontario, Harvey is married to four-time NCAA Champion and 2000 Olympian Kevin Sullivan.