Relays chance for Illini men to prepare, qualify

By Kevin Olsen

Following a dominant performance a week ago, the Illinois men’s track and field team looks to ride its success into Missouri on Saturday.

The Illini came away with victories in nine events last weekend at Southern Illinois and hope to duplicate their performance in Cape Girardeau, Mo., at the SEMO Relays.

“This meet is probably going to be on the same level as the Southern Illinois meet, and I imagine there’s probably going to be some good performances that come out of there,” head coach Wayne Angel said.

Angel thinks athletes such as Brandon Gray (200 meters), Gary Miller (400 hurdles) and Yawusa Kinda (400 meters) have a good chance of hitting regional qualifying marks this weekend.

It may be difficult, as the majority of the runners are competing in events that are different than their signature distances in hopes of getting stronger and faster for later in the outdoor season.

“As their confidence level increases, their performances get better, and it gets a lot easier going into bigger competitions because they have a little confidence under their belt, and they know they can push themselves harder if they need to,” Angel said.

One of the athletes not competing in his signature events is senior Nick Brown, who is an All-American in the triple jump and long jump. Brown will be running in the 100 meters, 200 meters and the 4×400 relay.

“I’m trying to improve from what I did last week,” Brown said.

“I want (this meet) to serve as speed techniques for the long jump and triple jump, so I can get a lot faster, so when I start jumping I can get some better marks.”

Brown plans on competing in the long jump and triple jump next week in Tennessee for the first time this outdoor season.

Another Illini preparing for later in the season is junior Andrew Zollner, who is training for the decathlon at the Drake Relays.

Zollner’s best event is the pole vault, where he will be looking to regionally qualify this weekend.

He is also competing in the javelin throw, the 110-meter hurdles and the shot put.

“I need to get my fitness back because I took such a long time off with an Achilles injury,” Zollner said. “The only way to do that is to start doing all the events and train hard … so putting me in four events at the meet is probably the best way to get my decathlon fitness back up.”

This meet will also be used to improve on some events Illinois has not been strong in. Angel said they need work on the 400-meter hurdles after graduating their best athletes last year. He is also looking to build up his distance runners and some of the throwers.

“The kids are self-motivated, they want to do well, and they’re putting in the work to make it happen,” Angel said.

“We take each meet as a stepping stone to the final objective, which is to do well in the (Big Ten).”

The SEMO Relays will start Saturday morning and continue throughout the day.