Women's Cross Country 2010 Season Preview
Aug. 30, 2010
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Coming off five consecutive top-12 finishes at the NCAA Championships, the Illinois women's cross country team eyes another successful season under fourth-year coach Jeremy Rasmussen. After losing seven letterwinners from a year ago, including the reigning cross country national champion Angela Bizzarri, the Illini will depend on solid performances from their six returning letterwinners along with immediate contributions from their younger runners.
"We always want to be one of the top teams in the Big Ten, get back to Nationals and have everyone run personal records," Rasmussen said. "This year it's going to be more of a challenge than in the past with such a young team."
The Illini's top returning runner is junior Kristin Sutherland, who finished 41st at last year's NCAA Championships, notched All-Region honors for the second-straight year and took fourth at the Big Ten Championships to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. After spending the summer resting an injured hip, Sutherland is expected to lead the way for the Illini.
"By the end of the year, she has a great shot to be back leading the charge," Rasmussen said. "Last year, she proved - being 41st in the nation and All-Big Ten and All-Region - that she's more than capable of doing that."
Despite being loaded with underclassmen - there are 17 underclassmen and only six upperclassmen - the Illini expect major contributions from the seniors. Rasmussen is entering his fourth year as cross country coach, making this senior class the first he has seen from beginning to end.
"They've been a part of the success up to this point, so they know what it takes to be successful," Rasmussen said. "That's going to be even more important than in the past because there are only a few of them who have been a part of it while in the past a bunch had done it."
Chantelle Groenewoud is the top Illini senior. Groenewoud is a two-time All-Region runner, and she was the fourth Illini finisher at last year's NCAA Championships. At last year's Big Ten Championships, she earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for her 13th-place finish and personal-best time of 21:02.
Illinois also adds a transfer, Stephanie Morgan, who was All-Region in the South Central Region a year ago at Baylor. Morgan scored for the Bears in every race she ran, including the NCAA Championships. The sophomore brings the underclassmen some big-meet experience.
"Chantelle has been in the top five to seven her entire career here," Rasmussen said. "She has a great shot to be our number two runner. Stephanie will also be right there with her. Those two should run great together and might be interchangeable day in and day out. I don't expect Ashley Thompson and Maddie Aufmann to be too far behind them."
Sophomore Madeline Aufmann scored for the Illini in each of the four races she competed in last year as a freshman, debuting with a third-place finish for the Illini at the Bradley Open. During the track season in the spring, Aufmann showed great progress, qualifying for the NCAA West Preliminary Round of Championship in the 3,000m steeplechase and scoring in the same event at the Big Ten Championships.
"She's really stepped up over the last year," Rasmussen said. "She had an outstanding track season last year and had some great breakthroughs."
Senior Ashley Thompson, who completed her eligibility in track and field but has a final year left in cross country, is also expected to be a big contributor as a senior. Thompson is expected to set a model of hard work and dedication for the incoming freshmen.
"Ashley came on for us last year and was able to be in the top five," Rasmussen said. "She turned around and had a very good track season. She's had an outstanding summer, and she's just a really hard worker. She understands the difference between putting in the work and really doing it the right way. Hopefully, she'll exude those characteristics to the young girls."
With the loss of four of the seven athletes who competed at the NCAA Championships, the nine freshmen are expected to battle it out in hopes of making the traveling roster. The underclassmen-heavy roster is a new experience for Rasmussen.
"In my second year here, it was the opposite - we had a lot of upperclassmen and very few underclassmen," Rasmussen said. "This year will be exciting. The young ones always bring a lot of enthusiasm and excitement to the squad, which is hopefully something we can carry throughout the year."
The schedule provides the Illini the opportunity to preview courses for both the NCAA Championships and the Big Ten Championships, as well as the chance to compete at home twice with a pair of meets scheduled at the UI Arboretum.
The team starts at home with the Illini Challenge, before spending the next four weeks traveling to various sites, including two visits to Terre Haute, Ind., the site of the NCAA Championships. Following Pre-Nationals, the Orange and Blue wrap up the regular season at home with the Illini Open.
The Illini begin postseason competition on Halloween at the Big Ten Championships in Madison, Wis. Two weeks later, Illinois competes in Peoria, Ill., at the NCAA Regional Championships to see if they can earn a seventh-consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships, which take place on Nov. 22.