2000 Season In Review...Illini On The Rise
Dec. 19, 2000
Champaign, IL - Illinois coach Michelle Byrne knew she had plenty of young talent heading into the 2000 cross country season. What she didn't know was how quickly her young squad would mature. By the end of the season, Byrne's team, made up primarily of freshmen and sophomores, developed into Big Ten contenders.
Pacing the Illini were sophomores Cecelia Williams and Amber Hunt. Williams and Hunt were the 1-2 punch all season long, leading the Illini to several impressive performances. Freshmen Breanna Wabick, Erin Frakes, Marcy Bice, Katie Hartmann, and Becky Bullard followed Williams' and Hunt's lead, running strong throughout the year and giving Illinois plenty of depth.
Illinois' breakthrough came in September at the Pre-Regional Meet, hosted by Northern Iowa. The Illini put together a phenomenal effort, cruising to victory after placing seven runners in the top ten, with Hunt winning the race and being named Big Ten Athlete of the Week.
The Orange and Blue carried its momentum into the conference meet, as the Illini placed fourth at the Big Ten Championships, with two sophomores and three freshmen serving as its scoring five. The fourth place showing was Illinois' highest Big Ten finish in six seasons, dating back to 1994. Williams led the team this time, placing seventh overall and earning All-Big Ten first-team honors. In that race, Williams set her personal best over the 5-K distance, running a very fast 17:36. Hunt placed 15th, also clocking a personal best time of 17:48.
Aiming to qualify for nationals, the team competed well at the Midwest Regional Meet, placing fifth overall. Three Illini runners-- Hunt, Wabick and Williams-- earned All-Region honors. While Illinois just missed an at-large birth for the NCAA Championships, the cross country team made great strides during the 2000 season. With plenty of talent and depth returning, the future for Byrne's harriers looks bright for years to come.