Monday, October 12, 2020

Basking in cross country glory: UIS’ Gloria Esarco surges on women’s team while Blake Jones leads men’s side

University of Illinois Springfield senior Gloria Esarco never tried cross country until setting foot on campus.

Although she flourished in track and field where she garnered an offer from the Prairie Stars, she could only participate on the high school volleyball team during the fall in Wisconsin.

She has enjoyed every bit of the new opportunity, so much that she will gladly accept an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic and compete in cross country for a fifth season.

“Personally it’s something I didn’t expect to happen but I take it day by day and I’m excited to have this bonus season in cross country and to be able to get back at it next year and really excel even more,” Esarco said. “In a way, it’s a blessing in disguise and you kind of just have to take it one day at a time.”

Esarco has recently emerged as the Stars’ No. 2 runner on the women’s cross country program and certainly impressed UIS coach Tyler Pence this weekend.

Esarco and Co. finished second place in the 6,000-meter Great Lakes Valley Conference East Divisional women’s race on the UIS course Saturday with a score of 45 behind Southern Indiana’s 41.

The UIS men’s team will also compete in the GLVC meet later this month after taking third place in Saturday’s 8,000-meter competition. Lewis won Saturday’s event with a score of 40, followed by Southern Indiana (47), UIS (68), Indy (71) and Missouri St. Louis (155).

UIS junior and Lincoln High School graduate Blake Jones earned first place in 24 minutes 6.30 seconds and won comfortably ahead of the rest of the field.

“He’s incredibly fit right now,” Pence said of Jones. “He’s one of the top runners in this conference, so he definitely had high expectations coming into the season and I think in two weeks he’ll definitely be a favorite to win the conference championship.”

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on October 10, 2020.