Illini look to repeat finishes in relays

By Steve Contorno

In its final meet before the Big Ten Championships beginning May 12, the Illinois men’s track team traveled to Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday for the prestigious Drake Relays. Illinois enters the meet as the all-time winningest team at the Drake Relays, with 131 first-place finishes in the 96 years of the event.

Head coach Wayne Angel looks to add to that total and use the meet as final preparation for the conference championships.

“The Drake (Relays) are very similar to the Big Ten Championships in that we’re going to be competing for two days,” Angel said. “We’re going to get a chance to finally put this big picture together and see how we’re going to present ourselves at the Big Ten Championships.”

The Illini are coming off one of their best weeks of the outdoor season. Last weekend, sophomore Pierre Bush and the rest of assistant coach Michael Turk’s field athletes had a breakout weekend, solidifying two regional spots and taking three first-place finishes. Turk has been working hard with his individuals and is still looking to qualify sophomores John Adamczyk and Nick Brown in the pole vault and long jump, respectively.

Also coming off a big week was freshman Dominique Worsley. After taking first place in the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash in a field that included some of the nation’s top sprinters, Worley was named the Big Ten’s Athlete of the Week for the second time this season.

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The sprinters have strived to run at a peak level every week without fail. And with the field athletes at top form, Angel is only waiting for his distance runners to heat up. Assistant coach Wendel McRaven has been doing all he can to get his runners ready for Big Ten Championships. Junior Justin Aronson took first-place last weekend in the 5000-meter run, while juniors Dan Stock and Jason Bill both finished in the top five in the 1500-meter run. Angel is excited about bringing a full team on the road that is competing well in all events.

“We finally put the pieces together,” Angel said. “We have the people that are consistent all the time, and now the younger kids are finally maturing and developing into the athletes we need to compete at a top level.

“We’re finally coming together and we’re gelling. I think right now the balance of this program is almost where I think it should be and we should be able to fight for a top two finish in the Big Ten Championships.”

This weekend at the Drake Relays, Illinois hopes to defend last year’s top finishes in the sprint medley and distance medley relays. The Illini also look to impress in the 4×100-meter and 4×200-meter relays, among other individual events. With nationally ranked athletes like senior Abe Jones, Worsley and Bush, Angel looks to bring back to Illinois more than a few first-place medals.

“We’ve got a lot of top athletes coming with us to the Drake Relays and I think Illinois is going to be well represented,” he said.