Team heads to Georgia; faces good competition

By Steve Contorno

After the indoor season that produced five All-Americans and a national ranking of 23, the Illinois men’s track team is entering the outdoor season with high expectations.

“We want to continue the momentum that we started from indoors and we want to keep the intensity high,” said Illinois head coach Wayne Angel. “We want to make sure that were focused towards our goals in the end, which is to get a top two finish in the Big Ten. From there it’s just icing on the cake; get a lot of regional qualifying times and hopefully get some more All-Americans at the nationals.”

While the outdoor season officially began about two weeks ago, this weekend will be the first time the team will really be tested against top athletes since the outdoor competitions began. Illinois heads to Athens, Ga., for the Spec Town Invite where the team will compete against host Georgia as well as Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Purdue and South Carolina. Assistant coach and former Illinois track standout Willie Williams, who has rejoined the Illini as a volunteer coach, is looking forward to seeing how his sprinters will fare in some tough heats.

“I’m looking for everything we run to win,” Williams said. “That’s the attitude that we have, and I think we’re on the platform to do that. We’re going to win some events here.”

Even though points will not be rewarded for the meet, the Illini will get a chance to compete against above average athletes. Angel is hoping his men can run at a high level and put up some good time.

“Our goal in this meet is primarily to run as many personal bests as possible and get as many kids as possible qualified for the regional championship,” Angel said.

For many of the runners, jumpers, and throwers, this will be the first opportunity to compete in an outdoor meet this year. Last weekend, some of the younger Illini went to Purdue to compete in the Poehlein Invite. In those situations where the competition is average, Angel prefers to use “developmental athletes” and give his top athletes a chance to rest.

But make no mistake; this week’s competition will bring out the best of the Illini. The nationally ranked 4×400-meter relay team of seniors Abe Jones, Tramell Smith and Adrian Walker and junior Nathan Vadeboncoeur are set to show off what they consistently did all indoor season. They dominated the field en route to a school-record time in the event and second place national finish. Vadeboncoeur will also compete in the 400-meter dash against fifth-ranked Keith Hinnant of Georgia.

One of the highlights of the meet will include Jones, one of Angel’s “most consistent performers.” Jones is ranked fifth nationally in the 400-meter hurdles, and will race against top-10 runners Justin Gaymon and Jason Richardson of Georgia and South Carolina respectively.

Angel hopes to use this meet to see how his team matches up against top schools.

“We’re going to bring our studs out now,” Angel said.