Junior Stephanie Morgan returns for the Illini after earning All-Region honors in 2010.
Aug. 30, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- After only losing just one letterwinner from last year's squad, sixth-year coach Jeremy Rasmussenbelieves the 2012 Illinois squad can make significant improvements from last season.
"The expectation is always try to be a top three team at the Big Ten Championships and have a chance to win," Rasmussen said. "That is always going to be a goal of ours but I think to be back in the top half of the conference this year must be the first step taken towards reaching our goals. If we can make a big jump like that from where we were last year to the top half I think that will be a wonderful accomplishment for the group and that will continue to set us in the right direction."
"The attitude on the team is good," Rasmussen said. "They worked hard over the summer and I think they're ready to show that they're a lot better than last year. I think if we can continue to improve and be competitive we are going to do just that. It is exciting. We've developed some really good leadership and really worked through some things that has brought this team to be much stronger."
The Illini will rely on a few upperclassmen, as redshirt-junior Stephanie Morgan and senior Courtney Yaegerwill look to lead the Orange and Blue this season. After redshirting last season, Morgan will look to improve upon her 2010 season where she earned her second consecutive All-Region honor at the NCAA Midwest Regionals, timing the sixth fastest 6K time in Illinois history. Yaeger had an incredible track season and looks to take the successes to the cross country course this season. Yaeger set a new school record in the 10,000m last April.
"I think Stephanie and Courtney will be two great leaders this year for us," Rasmussen said. "Stephanie is looking to be even better than she was a few years ago while Courtney will be relied on a very consistent basis. Coming off the track season she had, I think she has a new found confidence for who she is and what she's doing so that is exciting."
The Orange and Blue also return six runners who ran at the Big Ten Championships, including senior Yaeger, junior's Madeline Aufmann, Meghan Frigo and Katie Porada and sophomore's Colette Falsey and Britten Petrey.
The Illini add three talented newcomers in Amanda Fox, Michelle Frigo and Lindsey Rakosnik. Fox was the 2011 Illinois cross country Gatorade Athlete of the Year after winning the state cross country championships and placed ninth at the Nike National cross country meet. Frigo earned All-Conference and All-Section in cross country while Rakosnik was the 2011 USTAF National Junior Olympic 1,500m champion as well as being the 2011 Illinois 800m state champion. Rakosnik also placed seventh at the 2011 cross country state championships.
"So far the freshmen have done a great job," Rasmussen said. "Amanda is looking really good right now. She's not afraid to stick her nose in the group and really work hard. Lindsey has had a pretty good summer and she's getting better each work out. Michelle is continuing to get better. I've seen great strides in her already and I think she's going to be able to help us in the future."
The Illini kick off their season at home with the Illini Challenge on Aug. 31, where the Orange and Blue will welcome runners from Butler, Loyola, Lewis, Illinois State and Hannibal Lagrange with the meet starting at 5:00 p.m. Then two weeks later will head to Normal, Ill. for the Illinois Intercollegiate Championships.
"It's been awhile since most of these girls have raced in a cross country meet, so I think the biggest thing is knocking the rust off and really just being able to get out there and see where we're at," Rasmussen said. "That's my biggest goal for the first meet, seeing what we need to focus on in the future."
After a week off, Illinois is back in action at the Notre Dame Invitational, scheduled for Friday, Sept. 28 in South Bend, Ind. The women's 5K race will take place at 1:30 p.m. CT at the Notre Dame Golf Course.
"The Notre Dame meet is going to be the first major test in our season," Rasmussen said. "It is a course is similar to the course we'll run at the Big Ten Championships. It is on the Notre Dame golf course, which is flat and fast."
The Illini will continue to train until splitting up and heading to the Bradley Classic in Peoria, Ill. on Friday, Oct. 12 and Pre-Nationals in Louisville, Ky. the following day. The squad's final regular season meet will be held at home, as the Illini Open is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 19. The women will run the 5K course at 4:00 p.m. as the final race before beginning postseason competition.
"Pre-Nationals is a meet for our team to try and go out and beat teams from other regions," Rasmussen said. "If we can beat some quality teams from other regions that will allow us to look forward towards the national meet come time to run at the Midwest Regional Championships."
Postseason competition begins on Sunday, Oct. 28 with the Big Ten Championships at Michigan State's Forest Akers East Golf Course.
A week later on Friday, Nov. 9, the Illini travel to Springfield, Mo., for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships, where the top two teams will automatically advance to the NCAA Championships at the University of Louisville's Tom Sawyer State Park on Saturday, Nov. 17.
"If we can be in the top four, five, or six at the regional meet, we're giving ourselves a chance to be at the national meet," Rasmussen said. "We are up for the challenge to be back in the top half of the conference and fighting to be near the top in the near future."