Alyssa Schneider qualified for the NCAA Championships for the first time in her career.
Dec. 26, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Fighting Illini women's cross country team saw some big changes between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Four seniors graduated from last year's squad, including All-Region honoree Courtney Yaeger, and after the departure of sixth-year head coach Jeremy Rasmussen, the team was without a head coach with just weeks remaining until the start of the season.
Then, on Aug. 19, 11 days before the first meet of the season, Illinois chose Scott Jones to lead the program. Jones, who served as an assistant track coach at Illinois from 1994-96, returned to Illinois after spending 17 seasons at The University of Akron, including five as the head women's cross country coach. The two-time MAC Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year inherited an experienced squad, including 2012 All-Region honoree Alyssa Schneider. The Illini also returned Amanda Fox, Katie Porada, Rachel Irion, Chloe Schmidt and Lindsey Rakosnik, who all have postseason experience.
The Orange and Blue started off strong, opening the season with their first Illini Challenge title since 2006. Four of the top five finishers were wearing Orange and Blue, led by Schneider. The Bartlett, Ill., native finished first overall with a time of 14:24, while Porada ran unattached and finished close behind, setting a new personal best 4K time of 14:36. Amanda Fox placed third, while Schmidt (15:00) and Natalie Wynn (15:05) also set personal bests to finish fourth and fifth, respectively.
Illinois returned to action at the Boilermaker Invitational, a 6K race held at the site of the 2013 Big Ten Championships, and finished fourth. Schneider led the squad for the second meet in a row, finishing fifth overall with a time of 21:34.9. Fox, Wynn, newcomers Audrey Blazek and Hanna Winter, and Britten Petrey all scored points for the Illini.
Next, the Illini traveled to South Bend, Ind. for the Notre Dame Invitational. The Illini faced their toughest competition yet, as the 5K race featured eight nationally ranked teams among the 24-team field. Illinois placed 15th while Schneider continued her streak, finishing first for the Illini and placing 17th with a time of 17:30. Following Schneider were Porada, Fox, and Stephanie Morgan, who scored points for the Illini in her first meet of the season.
After a brief break, the Fighting Illini were back at it for a pair of meets Oct. 18-19. Seven runners traveled to Terre Haute, Ind. for the Pre-National Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 19, while a group of eight traveled to Peoria, Ill. on Oct. 18 for the Bradley Classic. The team competed in the White Race of the Pre-National Invitational and finished in fourth place. The 6K race was held at the site of the 2013 NCAA Championships and featured a 35-team field. Individually, Schneider led the Illini for the fourth consecutive meet, finishing eighth with a time of 21:09. Porada crossed the finish line next for the Illini with a time of 21:43 to place 20th, while Fox finished right behind to place 21st and Winter and Blazek each set new personal-bests. The Illini also had runners compete at the Bradley Classic the same weekend. Rachel Irion led the squad, and was among six Illini to set a personal-best on the day.
The Orange and Blue hosted the Illini Open on Oct. 25 at the UI Arboretum to close out the regular season, and finished with 84 points for the 5K race. Porada won the individual title, and was named the Big Ten Conference Cross Country Athlete of the Week for her efforts, the first of her career. The Clarendon Hills, Ill. native finished 47 seconds ahead of the next Big Ten competitor.
The Illini opened the championship portion of the season on Nov. 3 when they traveled to West Lafayette, Ind. for the Big Ten Championships. Illinois finished in ninth place, with Schneider continuing to lead the way for the Illini, placing 28th overall. Porada, Fox, Winter, and Petrey all scored points for the squad.
After the Big Ten Championships, seven Illini made the trip to Ames, Iowa to compete in the NCAA Midwest Regional. The Illini finished in eighth place, with Schneider, Fox, Porada, Winter, and Morgan scoring points for the squad. Schneider ran the fourth-fastest 6K time in school history to earn All-Region honors and qualify for the NCAA Championships for the first time in her career. Her fifth place finish was the highest for an Illini since Angela Bizzarri won the individual crown in 2009.
Schneider closed out the season for the Illini at the NCAA National Championships. She ran against 253 other competitors and finished 93rd with a 6K time of 21:16.3. It was Schneider's first time competing in the national meet, and the first time an individual on Illinois has qualified for the championships since 2009.
With only two seniors graduating from this year's squad, the Illini will return eight runners with postseason experience. Alyssa Schneider, Amanda Fox, Hanna Winter, Rachel Irion, and Audrey Blazek all competed at regionals this season, while Lindsey Rakosnik and Chloe Schmidt competed at the 2012 NCAA Midwest Regionals.