As a team the Redbirds didn’t run as well as they had hoped; however, this didn’t stop many of their runners from recording fantastic individual performances.
The Illinois State Redbirds men’s cross country team competed at the 2015 Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Ind. on Friday afternoon. In the five mile race that featured some of the best teams in the country, the Redbirds finished in 18th place with 434 points.
Despite gusty winds, the strong competition level and the hard, dry and flat course yielded fast times. This course was five miles as opposed to the 8k (4.971 mile) race that is customarily contested in collegiate cross country competitions. Any runner that ran faster on this five mile course than what they had ran on an 8k course deserves recognition.
Senior Tyler Morse crossed the finish line in a personal best time of 24:37 to notch a 44th place finish. Junior Jeff Bajema finished second for the Redbirds with a personal best time of 24:46. Redshirt freshman Kyle Mattes had a tremendous breakthrough Friday, running over 30 seconds faster than his previous personal best. Mattes finished in 100th place and stopped the clock at 25:05.
Junior Jesse Hahne and fifth-year senior Dave Eckhart finished 115th and 130th respectively to round out the scoring five for the Redbirds. Junior Brendan Hoskins finished sixth for the Redbirds and ran less than a second faster than his previous personal best at the ISU Country Financial Invitational in mid-September.
Assistant coach Jake Shaver acknowledged that the Redbirds didn’t run their best collectively as a team on Friday, although several runners produced great individual efforts.
“It was a mixed day,” said Shaver about the Redbird’s race on Friday. “Some people were outstanding, others were solid. [It was a] highly competitive race and a new environment [so definitely] a learning experience. [There are a] few improvements that we can make.”
Redshirt freshman Kyle Mattes recorded the largest personal best in terms of time dropped on the team.
“It is always exciting to PR [get a personal best] especially by such a big amount,” said Mattes after the race. “But I think being at a big invite made it [the personal best] more exciting.”
The Notre Dame Invitational on Friday had 167 finishers. It was significantly larger and had better competition than Mattes had ever seen in his collegiate cross country career. Assistant coach Jake Shaver was pleased with how Mattes performed.
“Mattes had a breakthrough race, definitely a positive step in the right direction for his development.”
For Jesse Hahne, his solid performance at the Notre Dame Invitational was a relief after battling back from a stress fracture injury that he sustained over the summer. Hahne consistently finished among the top five runners on the team last season; however, this year he wasn’t able to find that form again until Friday. Hahne said that it was a relief to finish well in a race again.
“The fact that I’m improving gives me confidence,” said Hahne. “Just knowing that I’m going in the right direction.”
At the Notre Dame Invitational, Hahne finished 48 seconds faster than he did three weeks ago at the ISU Country Financial Invitational. Hahne’s continued improvement is key for the Redbirds’ overall success this season.
While the Redbirds left South Bend with several personal bests and breakthrough performances, Shaver said that his team needs to make improvements moving forward.
“[We need to] bring the 1-5 gap down,” said Shaver in reference to the difference between the finishing time of the fifth runner and first runner on the team. “A couple of our guys can have better days.”
The men’s team will return to action on Oct. 16 at the Bradley Classic in Peoria, Ill. Last season, the men finished first at this meet.
The Redbirds finished second in their season opener at the Hawkeye Early Bird Invitational and won their home invitational in mid-September. While Notre Dame didn’t play out the way the team had hoped, Mattes said that he and his teammates appreciated the opportunity.
“It’s [running at Notre Dame] cool. You definitely realize being at that meet how special it is to be running at this level. It helps you run faster.”