Men capture three first-place finishes

By Steve Contorno

The men’s track team traveled to Athens, Ga., for the Spec Town Invite on Saturday hoping for some Southern sun. While the weather wasn’t what it was expecting, a little rain was not enough to stop the Illini from qualifying for regionals in five events and capturing three first-place finishes in a meet that included Georgia, Georgia Tech, Purdue and South Carolina.

“I can’t complain (about our performance),” head coach Wayne Angel said. “The guys didn’t let the elements disturb them. They were able to have fun with it and still compete at a high level.”

The meet was not scored, but Illinois was able to use the meet to qualify its athletes for regional spots and gauge themselves against other big schools.

Among the regional qualifiers for Illinois was freshman sprinter Dominique Worsley. The former high school All-American took first-place in the 100-meter dash with a personal best time of 10.50, tying the regional qualifying mark. Worsley also placed second in the 200-meter dash with a time of 20.95, besting a field that included senior teammate Andre English, who took sixth in the event. Worsley’s time in the 200-meter also topped the regional qualifying mark of 21.19.

“(Worsley) was the brightest star at the meet,” Angel said. “It pleased me very much to see he accepted the challenge and competed so well. I like that in an athlete.”

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English also finished sixth in the 110-meter hurdles in a tough heat that included Jason Richardson of South Carolina and Justin Gaymon of Georgia, two of the nation’s premiere runners. But English’s time of 14.29 was good enough to qualify him for regionals, just surpassing the minimum time of 14.30.

“I was hoping (the competition) would push me to get a good time,” English said. “I’ve ran with most of them before so I’m used to them. I’m just coming off an injury and it was the first race of the season, so I’m pretty satisfied.”

Illinois senior Abe Jones showed why he is ranked fifth in the nation in the 400-meter hurdles, finishing second with a regional qualifying time of 50.58, beating the regional qualifying time of 52.21 by a commanding 1.5 seconds.

The 4×400-meter relay team, ranked No. 2 in the nation, finished in first place. Joining Jones and junior Nathan Vadeboncouer in the relay were sophomore Paul Johnson and Worsley, instead of seniors Tramell Smith and Adrian Walker. Smith and Walker were part of the indoor team that broke the school record of 3:07.47 with a time of 3:06.79.

Also snagging a first-place finish was Illinois senior Aaron King. His time of 1:51.23 in the 800-meter race just missed the regional qualifying time of 1:50.40. Senior Tim Hobbs finished right behind him with a time of 1:51.81.

“(Saturday’s) race was a good confidence booster,” King said. “I felt really smooth. I’ll run it again in two weeks, and I’m pretty confident I’ll get to that regional mark.”

In the field events, Illinois was able to qualify sophomore jumper Nick Brown to regionals in the long jump. His bound of 21.1 feet put him in second place for the meet, and his triple jump of 14.72 meters landed him a third-place finish. Angel acknowledged that he will need athletes like Brown and senior Charley Kurlinkus to have success in the field if the team wants to do well at the Big Ten Championships.

“I still think we have a lot to work on,” Angel said. “I think long jump and triple jump will be fine. We need to make adjustments, but they usually pick it up as the season goes.”

Angel also acknowledged that the team has some glaring holes. Despite the success of the sprinters and 4×400-meter relay team, the Illini are still without a discus or javelin thrower. But Angel is confident the team is still one of the Big Ten’s top teams.

“We need our long distance guys, 1500 (meters) and up to get going,” Angel said. “But we have a lot of bright spots. We are right on track to do well with our goals at the Big Ten Championships.”