Men on fast track to success

By Kevin Olsen

Following a tough competition in the SEC-Big Ten Challenge last weekend, the men’s track and field team will compete alongside the women in the Carle/Health Alliance Classic on Saturday.

The meet will take place only a week after junior Lesiba Masheto was named to the Botswana Olympic team. The All-American Masheto is coming off a first-place finish in the 400 meters and is expected to lead a team that head coach Wayne Angel said is ahead of schedule in the early season.

“We’re probably farther along than I thought, based off of last week’s performance,” Angel said. “I think we did quite well. I think we’re moving in the right direction. In terms of fitness, in terms of technique as far as youngsters, I think we’re starting to put things together.”

Angel acknowledged he has some young men on the team that are continually improving, and this next week will be used to instill more confidence in the freshmen.

“The goals we have is to continue to improve as individuals. As a team, we’re working to come together and try to jell in terms of stepping up until the Big Ten Championship,” said Angel. “We have a lot of young athletes and we have veterans in here, so they’re helping each other to teach those youngsters how to compete and not to be afraid.”

Angel believes some freshmen may open eyes this weekend, such as Eugene Ellis, Cody Wisslead and Josh Gist. But the Illini are starting to get help from a lot of different people. He acknowledged veterans Andrew Zollner, Nick Brown, Masheto and Trent Hoerr are going to step up for the team, but the number of athletes Angel can count on is growing.

“Gary Miller is really starting to open some eyes,” said Angel. “One young man I’m proud of right now is Isaiah Robbins. He’s starting to really come into his own.”

Miller was one of three Illini to win events last week, taking first in the mile, along with Masheto in the 400 and Zollner in the pole vault.

Zollner said he is still performing at only about 50 or 60 percent after returning a couple of weeks ago from a broken arm. It has not shown in his performance as he has placed first and second in the last two meets in the pole vault.

“The places in the competition are irrelevant to me right now, it’s really about getting a national-qualifying mark,” Zollner said. “I need to get at least a provisional national qualifier in. If I get that, then I’m going to be happy.”

Zollner believes he will reach the 17-feet-1 provisional mark Saturday which would also be a personal-best jump. He will also be competing in the 60-meter hurdles as well as the long jump or high jump.

“The goals are individual goals … I want to be one of the top jumpers in the country,” said Zollner. “I want to jump higher than I’ve ever jumped before.”