Wildcats look to block their way to the front

Evelio Contreras

Figuring to be the seventh runner this Sunday in the Big Ten Championships, Kyna Forkins knows she has an important role to fill – make sure to stop other runners in their tracks.

“I think we all know what is expected from us for this week,” Forkins said. “Being one of the runners more toward the back of the team, every spot I can get will help. A lot of it depends on who I’m running with. If I know that someone’s close to the No. 5 or 6 runners … I will try blocking them from getting ahead.”

Forkins and the rest of the varsity team is well-rested after sitting out last Saturday’s meet in Lake Forest, Ill., to prepare for this weekend’s much bigger race in Champaign, Ill. Finishing third out of 15 teams in the Illinois Invitational earlier this season on the same course, the team is hoping to at least repeat the third-place performance.

“The Big Ten conference is a big rivalry,” junior Rachel Evjen said. “It is a pretty big meet for everyone. I think that if we all run really well, we could get third place. (If) one or two runners (fall) behind, it could mean sixth place. The difference of the third, fourth and fifth runners are really important.”

Evjen won the Illinois Invitational this year and feels comfortable about running in the University of Illinois’ 5K course.

“It will be a good race,” Evjen said. “It’s really a flat course. I know what to expect. It’s nice and short.”

In 2000, Evjen finished 12th at the Big Ten Championships and earned second-team All-Big Ten status. She has a good shot of becoming the first Wildcats runner to earn first-team honors.

With 11 teams running on a 5K course, there isn’t much room for the Cats to get lost and worry about false starts or close calls.

“When we ran at this course earlier in the season, we were in third place to Butler University by one point,” Forkins said. “All of us have to go out there and run smart races.”

One thing that might affect the team this weekend is the frosty weather.

“It’s supposed to get kind of cold this weekend,” Evjen said. “I like running in cold weather but not freezing. We didn’t do anything different this week as far as preparing.”

Aside from the glory of standing out in the Big Ten, the meet is important for the Cats to show the pollsters that they can run under pressure. This is their final race before the NCAA Midwest Regionals in two weeks, a competition that will give the Cats a chance to gain an NCAA bid.

But that doesn’t mean this is merely a preparatory race for NU.

“It’s different,” junior Karen Rogers said. “It’s the Big Tens. The beginning of the season was a really good opportunity to race well and see how you’re progressing. Later in the season, though, you like to think you are in better shape. It’s a good opportunity to see how good you are with good competition.”