Drake Relays provide test; Illini accept challenge

By Steve Contorno

Despite poor weather, the Drake Relays took place in front of a sellout crowd of 14,000 spectators for the 41st consecutive year. One of the nation’s most prestigious outdoor track events, the Drake Relays attract competition from all over the world – from high school athletes to professionals. The Illini saw themselves matched up against some top athletes and did not disappoint, said head coach Wayne Angel.

“It wasn’t the greatest weather, but we did what we had to do,” Angel said. “It was more of a mental test for us and the guys accepted the challenge and made me really proud.

“The weather could be like that at the Big Ten (Championships). But overall we did great. Our guys continually come in and do what’s necessary, and that makes them special.”

One “special” performance came from senior Abe Jones. Last year’s Drake Relays champion in the collegian 400-meter hurdles, Jones opted to compete in the invite portion of the meet and faced perennial Drake Relay champion John Woody. Jones posted a regional qualifying and season-best time of 50.37 and took first place.

Jones, along with sophomore Pierre Bush, junior Nathan Vadeboncoeur and freshman Dominique Worsley, was also a part of 4×200-meter relay team that took second place with a time of 1:23.82, finishing less than half of a second behind Florida.

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Worsley again proved he is a consistent performer for the Illini, taking third in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 10.79.

Senior Andre English had an outstanding weekend, breaking out of a self-proclaimed slump caused by injury. His preliminary run Friday in the 110-meter hurdles was good enough for a regional qualifying time of 14.13 and first in his heat. He went on to take third in the finals Saturday with a time of 13.97, breaking his season-best time set in Friday’s race. English said he went into the Drake Relays looking for a “confidence booster.”

“I’ve been rusty coming off an injury,” English said. “I haven’t had too many good times this year.”

The distance runners received a boost from sophomore Dan Stock. His time of 9:02.47 earned him a third-place finish in the 3000-meter steeplechase. Stock credited working with distance coach Wendel McRaven for his accomplishment Saturday.

“I’ve been doing a lot of hurdle work with Coach McRaven,” Stock said. “We’ve been spending a lot of time practicing my technique several times a week and it paid off.”

Angel was excited to see Stock succeed in such a difficult event and hopes it translates into more points at the Big Ten Championships, which are now just two weeks away.

“Dan Stock’s finish in the steeplechase was a big surprise for us,” Angel said. “It will definitely help us in the Big Tens, and he will be a big surprise against the competition. It will be a big boost for us in the end.”

The Illini will take a break from competition next weekend before the Big Ten Championships begin May 12. Angel will look at the upcoming practice as a chance to perfect an already highly decorated team.

“The hay is in the barn,” Angel said. “We’ll work on perfecting the relays and keeping the athletes healthy and prepared and make sure they stay focused in the classroom so we can be mentally prepared to do well at the conference meet.”