Wednesday, September 30, 2020

UIS cross country teams band together, sail to first place in season debut

University of Illinois Springfield cross country runners Tyler Pasley, Wyatt McIntyre, Blake Jones and Cort Ross barreled toward the finish line together in the Prairie Stars’ first triangular meet of the season Friday evening.

McIntyre, Jones and Ross eased up just before the end of the 6,000-kilometer run to give Pasley, the senior, a well-deserved victory in what was UIS’ first sporting event on campus since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Nothing more could encapsulate the team’s camaraderie.

“We were working together, staying together. The first half of the race, we went at a real race-pace and then the last half we kind of treated it as a workout. It was fun working with them. I enjoy it every single day.”

The UIS men’s team dominated the competitive event in first place. 

“My goals are really team-oriented,” said Jones, a three-time state qualifier from Lincoln High School. “At first when I was a freshman, they were pretty individually-oriented. I’ve realized it’s a lot easier when you have great teammates like Wyatt, Cort and Pasley — that front group really.

It was the season opener, but only two more races remain for the rest of the fall season. UIS will also host a Great Lakes Valley Conference qualifying meet on Saturday, Oct. 10 before the conference championships on Oct. 24 in Elsah. 

“We’ve got to be ready to roll in two weeks and we are,” UIS coach Tyler Pence said. “We’re fit right now and we’re definitely ready to take that next step and go qualify for the conference championships in two weeks.”

Ditto junior Taryn Christy and the UIS women’s team. Christy finished third overall while the Stars took sixth last fall in the GLVC.

“I need to put in as many points as possible because we have the girl power to do that this season,” Christy said.

Christy kickstarted Friday’s 4,000-kilometer race in first place in 14 minutes 39.78 seconds, alongside senior teammate and runner-up Gloria Esarco (14:39.84). UIS also easily won the women’s side ahead of McKendree and Quincy.

Christy became UIS’ first female runner to qualify for the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships last fall and the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships last winter. However, she wasn’t able to compete in indoor nationals because of the COVID-19 pandemic and coped through the troublesome intermission only after some soul-searching.

“It was kind of shocking in the first 200 and 500 meters of the race, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m actually doing this,’” Christy said. “I love to race and I missed that feeling so much, especially when you finish the race with all of your teammates around you and everyone’s so happy and excited. All of that adrenaline, there’s nothing like it. I think we’re all super excited and grateful to be racing right now.”

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on September 25, 2020.