Men’s track looking forward to Drake Relays

By Kevin Olsen

The Drake Relays have often been a coming out party for the Illinois men’s track and field team. The Illini have experienced unprecedented success at the prestigious meet and this weekend will mark the return of junior All-American Gakologelwang Masheto.

Masheto will be competing for the first time in the outdoor season, running as part of the 4×200, 4×400 and sprint medley relays. Masheto was victorious in the 400 meters last year at Drake. A stress fracture in his foot, though, has sidelined him from competing since the Big Ten Indoor Championships on March 2.

“It’s a motivating factor knowing you have one of your leaders coming back and he’s the guy that’s going to help them score big at Big Ten and on a national level,” head coach Wayne Angel said. “He has to be safe, take everything in stride and get faster each week.”

The Drake Relays are one of the most storied meets in the country, with over 8,000 athletes from 686 teams competing this weekend. In the 99th running of the event, Illinois finds itself the most decorated school in the history of the meet. The Illini own the most overall titles (133), individual titles (62) and relay titles (71) of all participating schools.

“It’s a very competitive meet,” Angel said. “I hope to be very competitive in the relays, to be able to continue the tradition we have … we have the record there right now.”

Illinois will be in six relays throughout the weekend and will have 10 athletes competing as individuals. The relay to keep an eye on will be the 4×400, in which the team of Masheto, Gary Miller, Brandon Gray and Yawusa Kinda will compete. The Illini already own the fastest time in the Big Ten without Masheto as a part of the team and the sixth fastest time in the NCAA Mideast Region.

Masheto, Gray and Miller will be joined by Dominique Worsley in a formidable 4×200 relay. Worsley has already posted a NCAA regional qualifying mark in the 200 meters. Illinois will also run in the 4×800 and 4×1600, along with the sprint medley relay and distance medley relay.

For the first time this season, junior Andrew Zollner will compete in the decathlon. Zollner started competition Wednesday, coming off a weekend where he hit a regional qualifying mark in the pole vault.

“It’s the first decathlon and you’re hoping he is well prepared for most of his events and that he takes one event at a time,” Angel said. “Hopefully he’ll come out with a decent score that he can build on for the Big Ten.”

Senior Nick Brown will look to fast track his outdoor season this weekend. Brown has achieved All-American status in the long jump and triple jump in the past but has only competed in jumping events once this outdoor season.

“I’m trying to improve my triple jump or at least get a decent mark out there going into the Big Ten meet,” Brown said. “I think by the time Big Ten’s come around, I will be fine.”

The decathlon events begin Wednesday, with competition lasting through Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa.