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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

New coach, veteran leadership vital to cross country success

Courtesy of NIU Athletics
Then-redshirt senior Victoria Robinson runs at the Hawkeye Invitational in September 2021. The Huskies are set to begin their season Friday. (Photo courtesy NIU Athletics)

DeKALB – With the offseason in the rearview mirror, NIU’s cross country team is ready to lace up and hit the trail for what promises to be an exciting 2023 campaign.

The Huskies hope to yield different results after a season that ended with an undesirable outcome.


Last season, the Huskies showcased their potential with a string of strong performances. The team secured a pair of top-five finishes, claiming the runner-up position at the First State Bank Huskie Challenge and fourth at the Tom Hoffman Invitational. 

NIU was unable to maintain its momentum, finishing outside the top-10 in the final three races. The campaign for NIU concluded with a disheartening last place finish in the MAC Championship.


This year, the team is bolstered by the return of eight runners, with two emerging stars to keep an eye on this season. 

Fifth-year standout Katelyn Robbins aims to improve her college resume after an impressive senior campaign. The former Academic All-MAC honoree achieved ninth place in the 5k run at the First Bank Huskie Challenge with a finishing time of 19:42.28. This accomplishment made her one of only three Huskies to finish in the top 10 last season. 

Another top-10 performer will once again don the colors of red, black and white as junior Joy Jackson returns for her third season as a Huskie. Jackson secured the ninth position among 74 contestants at the Tom Hoffman Invitational, completing the 500-meter race with a time of 24:18.9. Jackson, along with Robbins and Valentine, was the only other runner to finish in the top 10 last season. 


This year’s Huskies find themselves grappling with the inevitable trade-off between progress and loss. The departure of superstar Brooke Valentine leaves a void for NIU. 

Valentine led the Huskies in all five meets last season, finishing top-10 in two contests to end her college career.   

Joining the Huskies this year is Maine South product freshman Morgan Gioia. The Park Ridge native ran cross country all four years at her alma mater. 

Last season, Gioia finished 26th in the Central Suburban League Cross Country Championship with a time of 19:49.7. She hoisted Maine South to fourth place at the IHSA class 3A section, achieving a 26th place finish with a time of 18:55.9. 


Newly acquainted and departing Huskies weren’t the only shakeups made to the roster. On April 5, NIU Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics, Sean Frazier, announced Juan Carrillo will be the new head coach of the women’s cross country team. 

Returning to the program after briefly serving as a volunteer assistant, Carrillo believes all the pieces are in place for strong contention in the MAC.

“I am looking forward to building this program back up to the top of the MAC,” Carrillo said via an NIU Athletics Press Release. “The resources and facilities are set in place to be successful here and to build championship programs in both cross country and track and field.” 

Carrillo brings 15 years of coaching expertise to this program, with brief stints at Tulane and Bowling Green. 


The Huskies’ season kicks off at 5:15 p.m. on Friday as they journey to Macomb for the Western Illinois Invitational. 

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