Track readies for a new season outdoors

By Kevin Olsen

With the good and bad of the indoor season behind them, the Illinois men’s and women’s track and field teams look to turn a new page opening their outdoor track season.

The women got a taste of the outdoor track last week in a dual meet with Texas-Arlington, but will send 18 athletes to the Hurricane Challenge in Coral Gables, Fla. The men will battle the weather in their trip to Carbondale, Ill., in the SIU Spring Classic on Saturday.

Head coach Gary Winckler has had his team training hard since the indoor season concluded and was “pleased with the results from last week’s meet.”

Four women already met regional qualifying marks last weekend.

“They just feel good about being outside,” Winckler said. “It’s kind of nice to get out of the indoor environment and get outside again.”

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Senior LaNeisha Waller already qualified in the 100-meter hurdles as well as the long jump. She will compete in both events this weekend as well as part of the 4×100 relay team.

“It was nice being back outdoors and starting the season off with some pretty good times,” Waller said. “Right off the bat I want to try to qualify for regionals and hopefully do well there, and I still want to have a good season with the other meets leading up to that.”

Waller qualified one spot shy of making indoor nationals in the 60-meter hurdles but is not letting her close call have any lingering effects.

“You really want to focus and put all of your attention into outdoors,” Waller said. “This team looks really well. The (distance medley relay) team did a great job at nationals, so a lot of us are just excited for them and excited for what’s to come.”

The women’s team will look to take advantage of some events that are not offered in indoor competition.

Winckler expects freshman Danelle Woods to have a strong showing in the steeplechase.

He is also looking to form a strong 4×100 relay team as well to build off the success of the distance medley relay team. The relay team achieved All-American status at Indoors along with Aja Evans in the shot put.

For the men, they are looking for a fresh start after a disappointing indoor campaign.

They did not send any athletes to indoor nationals, but head coach Wayne Angel is looking for his team to move on from that and look to improve on a new season outdoors.

“It’s going to be a meet where we can evaluate our guys and see where they are at in terms of fitness and where we need to move things around,” Angel said. “The most important thing is to get them going, get the juices flowing and get out there competing.”

Angel is convinced “the past is the past” and needs his athletes to move on and come out with a “positive, mental attitude” because anything can happen in the outdoor season.

He will count on athletes such as Dominique Worsley, Gary Miller, Nick Brown and Brandon Gray to keep improving and lead the Illini team back to elite status.

“They want to get on the track and get down to business,” Angel said. “I look forward to getting this thing started and getting it going.”

All-American Gakologelwang Masheto will not compete until mid- to late April as he comes back from a foot injury sustained in early February.

“He’s on track to do what he needs to do,” Angel said. “He’s anxious to get on the track, but we are erring on the side of caution.”

The men’s and women’s meet will start Saturday morning and finish in the afternoon.

“If things go right, we could have a very, very good season,” Angel said. “It’s all about keeping the injuries to a minimum and stepping up and building on the things of the past.”