Runners to face tough competition

By Steve Contorno

When Illinois men’s track head coach Wayne Angel decided he would send some of his top athletes to Waco, Texas on Saturday for the Michael Johnson Classic, people might have thought he was crazy with the type of competition he would face. The meet roster includes Olympic champions Jeremy Wariner and Darrol Williamson, both of whom will be competing in the 400-meter dash against junior Nathan Vadeboncoeur. But Angel insists there is a method to his madness.

“We’re going to be going against some of the best athletes in the world,” Angel said. “When you go to those big meets with the better competition, it just makes you better. It raises your level of expertise, and that’s what we’re trying to do … that way when we get to the Big Ten Championships, it’s just like any other meet.”

Illinois freshmen Dominique Worsley, who has scorched his competition thus far this season, will also face a tough field in both the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash. National Indoor Champion Jacob Norman of host Baylor will square off against Worsley in the 100, while Norman’s teammates – Reggie Weatherspoon, Jacob Norman and Queito Teasleey – will see Worsley in the 200.

Senior Abe Jones will be facing another of Baylor’s top athletes when he goes against nationally ranked Jerome Miller in both the 110-meter hurdles and the 400-meter hurdles. Jones is ranked fifth in the 400-meter hurdles, while Miller is eighth and 17th in the 110 and 400, respectively.

Oklahoma State, Iowa, Notre Dame and New Mexico State, among others will be competing in the meet.

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The remainder of Illinois’ team will be staying home to compete Saturday in the Illinois Invitational. The meet will begin at 10 a.m. at the Illinois Track and Soccer Complex. Angel is excited to see how the rest of his team will fair in preparation for the Big Ten Championships in two weeks.

“Basically what we’re trying to do in the tail end of our season is get athletes qualified for regionals and qualified to make the Big Ten trip,” Angel said. “We’re just trying to get improvement right now, honing our skills and give us the opportunity to represent the best team possible at the Big Ten (Championships).”

Wayne acknowledges some soft spots in the distance and field events, and admitted being disappointed that the long distance runners he sent to California last weekend weren’t able to qualify for regionals when he sent them there for that reason. But he feels the team is starting to come around as a whole, and thinks the Illini will compete well at home Saturday.

“When you’re at home and you’re protecting your home turf, you tend to run a lot better, especially when you have your own crowd,” Angel said.