Paul Steeno – Indy Writer
On Saturday morning in Evansville, Ind., the Illinois State men’s cross country team finished in second place in the 2015 Missouri Valley Conference Cross Country Championships. Their second place finish marked the first time since 2007 that the Redbird men have finished that high in the Missouri Valley Conference Championships.
“I thought the men ran fantastic,” said assistant coach Jake Shaver after the race. “I thought they fought hard. They won a lot of very important battles. Without [every one] of those battles being won the result would [have] been different.”
The Redbirds finished in a tie with the Wichita State Shockers. Both teams finished with 78 points. A tiebreaker that looked at individual matchup winners of the one through five runners of both teams allowed the Redbirds to edge out the Shockers for second place. The Bradley Braves finished first with 67 points.
Redshirt-freshman Kyle Mattes edged out a Wichita State Shocker at the line while junior Jesse Hahne passed two Shockers in the final 400 meters of the race. Junior Jeff Bajema out-kicked another Shocker across the final 200 meters of the race. All three performances were instrumental in giving the Redbirds the edge over the Shockers for second place.
The Redbirds had two All-Conference performers. This designation goes to the top ten finishers in the race. Senior Tyler Morse finished seventh overall while redshirt-freshman Kyle Mattes finished tenth.
For Mattes, the post-race hardware didn’t stop with his first All-Conference designation. Mattes also earned the Freshman of the Year Award which goes to the freshman that places the highest in this race. He ran a time of 24:25.47 which was his fourth consecutive personal best 8k time of the season.
Mattes joined the team as a walk-on in August 2014. The coaches elected to redshirt him during his freshman year of cross country. This season, he recorded four consecutive personal bests in the 8k en route to earning the Freshman of the Year Award at the 2015 Missouri Valley Conference Championships.
“Mattes has proven himself many times this season,” said Shaver about Mattes. “I just think he is dialed in and [he is] a competitive person by nature. He is willing to hurt in those races. He has ascended to that highest echelon of guys in the conference.”
Junior Jeff Bajema earned an All-Conference Honorable Mention designation with his 14th place finish. He crossed the finish line in 24:35.16.
Junior Jesse Hahne recorded a personal best time of 24:43.42 to finish fourth for the Redbirds and 18th overall. He finished just outside the top fifteen which would have earned him an All-Conference honorable mention designation. Sophomore Joe Singleton recorded a gutsy performance to finish fifth for the Redbirds in a time of 25:09.05. After dry heaving multiple times in the middle of the race, Singleton recovered and came within six seconds of his personal best time.
“Whenever I run really hard my body decides to produce a lot of mucus,” said Singleton. “Every now and then I start choking on it. [Despite this], I put my head down and tried to push my legs as hard as I could and lucky enough my legs decided to listen to me. I zeroed in and just thought about catching as many guys as I could the last 3k.”
Junior Brendan Hoskins, redshirt-freshman J.D. LaFayette and fifth-year senior Dave Eckhart finished 31st, 40th and 49th respectively for the Redbirds on Saturday.
Juniors Jesse Hahne and Jeff Bajema were named to the 2015 Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete Team. To qualify for this designation, an athlete must maintain a cumulative 3.2 GPA or higher and place in the top-20 in the Missouri Valley Conference meet. In addition, an athlete must have sophomore eligibility both academically and athletically.
From the beginning of the season, the Redbirds set a goal to win the Conference Championships. While they fell just short of their goal, their second place performance was a testament to all the hard work that the team put in this season. They will have one more opportunity to show off all that hard work.
The Redbirds return to action on November 13 at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Lawrence, Kan. Instead of the customary 8k distance that the Redbirds have competed at all season, runners at the Regional will run a 10k (~6.2 miles). The top individuals and teams will have the opportunity to qualify for the NCAA Division 1 Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Ky. at this Regional competition.