Track and field teams gear up for Big Ten Championships with stellar performances

By Kevin Olsen

The Illinois men’s and women’s track and field teams made big strides toward preparing for this year’s Big Ten Championships.

Both teams produced numerous personal bests this weekend at Iowa State, in one of their final tune-ups before the championships in two weeks.

“The guys are competitive,” men’s head coach Wayne Angel said. “They are competing at a high level. I can see us being very competitive at the Big Ten Championship. The team is really coming together.”

The stars of the meet for the men were junior Gary Miller, who won the 600 meters, and Dominique Worsley, who finished second in the 60 meters in a field of more than 90 teams.

In what was the women’s final meet before the Big Ten Championships, sophomore Aja Evans broke her own school record in the shot put with a mark of 54 feet 8 1/4 inches. Sophomore Angela Bizzarri set a personal best in the mile, provisionally qualifying with a time of 4 minutes and 41.98 seconds to take second place.

“Most of everyone on the team improved a little bit over what they have done over the season,” head coach Gary Winckler said. “They’re doing well, and we have two more weeks until the conference meet and they’re going to run even better then.”

Angel was encouraged by what he saw from his team this weekend, especially Worsley, who is starting to “come into form.” Brandon Gray also had a breakthrough meet in the 400 meters, running a personal best to finish 11th.

Gray was also part of the 4×400 meter relay team that just missed a provisional qualifier and finished eighth without All-American Lesiba Masheto, who rested this weekend.

The Illini also received huge boosts from freshman Matt McHugh in the weight throw and sophomore Mike Murray in the mile. McHugh had the third-best performance in school history and finished 13th in the event. Junior Andrew Zollner also recorded a personal best in the pole vault with a mark of 16 feet, 10 3/4 inches.

“All those areas where we need to score, we are looking good,” Angel said.

For the women, freshman Danelle Woods finished fifth in the 3,000 meters and “looked good doing it” according the Winckler, recording the best time of the year for the Illini. Senior Rachel Hernandez recorded a personal best in the 800 meters to finish ninth.

LaNeisha Waller improved her provisional qualifying time in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.30 seconds on Friday but was not able to qualify for the finals. She also finished fifth in the long jump to lead the Illini. Sophomore Nikkita Holder also recorded a personal best in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.39 seconds in the semifinal rounds before finishing seventh in the finals.

While most of the team was at Iowa State, distance runners Trent Hoerr and Jacob Nachel traveled to Seattle to compete in the 5,000 meters at the Husky Invitational. Nachel just missed a provisional qualifying mark, finishing 21st with a personal-best time of 14:13:49.

The men’s team will travel to Eastern Illinois next weekend for its final meet before the Big Ten Championships.

“Our number one focus is Big Ten,” Angel said. “That’s our bread and butter, and anything else is icing on the cake.”