Men’s track team to compete in trials in California, Kansas

Illinois runners Trent Hoerr (left), Jacob Nachel (middle) and Dan Kremske (right) run past the crowd Jan. 26 at the Armory. Erica Magda

Johnny Chiang

Illinois runners Trent Hoerr (left), Jacob Nachel (middle) and Dan Kremske (right) run past the crowd Jan. 26 at the Armory. Erica Magda

By Kevin Olsen

The highly anticipated return of All-American Gakologelwang Masheto will have to wait another week. While he continues to recover from a stress fracture in his foot, the Illinois men’s track and field team will attempt to collect NCAA regional qualifying marks in Kansas and California.

Distance runners Trent Hoerr and Jacob Nachel will travel to Walnut, Calif., to compete in the 10,000 meters and 5,000 meters, respectively, in what will be Hoerr’s first meet of the outdoor season. The rest of the team will compete against 3,800 athletes from more than 300 schools in the prestigious Kansas Relays.

“This is a week where we want to get as many qualifiers as we can so that we can focus at the Big Ten in getting the best finish we can at home,” head coach Wayne Angel said.

While Angel hopes Hoerr and Nachel can qualify in California, he will be looking for a variety of athletes to step up this weekend. Freshman Eugene Ellis will replace Brandon Gray in the 4×400 relay, where the team owns the conference’s best time this season. Gray will not travel with the team because of undisclosed disciplinary reasons.

The 400-meter runners have been the strong suit of the team this season even without Masheto. Angel believes they have interchangeable parts, and that the relay team can still lower its time this weekend even without Gray. But the true test will lie in other events, ones that are good indicators of how well this Illini team will compete at Big Tens.

“I think (Andrew) Zollner should be ready to make a breakthrough, as well as (Greg) Shroka,” Angel said. “They’re all so close right now, so this might be the meet for the breakthrough we are looking for.”

Zollner will compete in the pole vault while Shroka will look to build on his early-season success in the high jump. This weekend will also feature the first time this season senior All-American Nick Brown will be competing in the long jump and triple jump. Angel thinks Brown can hit a regional qualifying mark in the long jump on his first try and could be joined by senior Pierre Bush.

“We kind of motivate each other every time we compete since freshman year, so it’s going to be a great addition to have Nick Brown around,” Bush said. “I was close at Southeast Missouri, and I think I can hit the mark at this meet.”

Bush will also compete in the 100 meters, as well as part of the 4×100 relay team. His times in the events have improved this year, and he feels well on his way to being fully prepared for Big Tens in his final season.

Other athletes looking to take advantage of the good weather and qualify this weekend are Yawusa Kinda and Dan Jones in the 400 meters, Gary Miller in the 400 hurdles and freshman Josh Gist in the 110-meter hurdles. Last week, a number of athletes lowered their times at Tennessee, but they did not count because of the strong wind factor.

“I have to get quick between the hurdles,” Gist said. “The 110 is a lot more hurdles to get used to than indoors with the 60-meter hurdles. We’ve just been doing a lot of extended hurdles to work on the 110.”

The Kansas Relays start Thursday and go through Saturday. Nachel will compete Thursday night and Hoerr on Friday night in California.

“We are going to have to continue with the intensity that we have,” Angel said. “We also have to be consistent and continue to improve, and if we do this we can build on each week and be ready when the time comes for (the conference championships).”