Men’s track looks to fine tune at Adidas Classic

Brad+Meyer+The+Daily+Illini+Lesiba+Masheto+sprints+ahead+in+the+mens+4x400+meter+relay+at+the+Carle%2FHealth+Alliance+Invitational+held+in+the+armory+on+Saturday%2C+Jan.+24%2C+2009.%0A

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Brad Meyer The Daily Illini Lesiba Masheto sprints ahead in the mens 4×400 meter relay at the Carle/Health Alliance Invitational held in the armory on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009.

By Kevin Kaplan

At this Saturday’s Adidas Classic in Lincoln, Neb., there will be several ranked teams in attendance, one of the best 400-meter matchups in the country, and perhaps most important of all, a chance for the Illinois men’s track and field team to improve as the Indoor Big Ten Championships creep closer.

Coming off a first-place finish at home last weekend, the Illini have momentum heading to Nebraska, and head coach Wayne Angel wants to carry it into next week’s New Balance Invitational in New York City.

“I think right now, as a team we’ve got to exhibit a high level of intensity and competitiveness if we’re going to be able to improve on last week,” Angel said.

“As we get to the better meets our weaknesses are going to be exposed.

“That’s why we have to continually build on the successes that we’ve had, and those areas that are weak, we’ve got to strengthen them.”

As last week showed, even Illinois’ top performers can show weakness, with Gakologelwang Masheto finishing a disappointing fourth place in the 400 meters, his signature event.

“I’m still thinking about it, it really affected me,” Masheto said about his performance.

Masheto will get his shot at redemption against Nebraska’s Lukas Hulett, who is ranked 10th in the NCAA in the 400 meters with a time of 47.17 seconds. Masheto is ranked sixth (47.07).

Masheto will also be running the 200 meters for the first time this season.

“The (reason I’m running the) 200 meters is for the first 200 meters of the 400 meters, because I think that’s where I’m losing my race,” Masheto said.

Illinois will also look for improvement in places other than Nebraska, sending freshmen Shawn Ledbetter and Andrew Riley to compete in the heptathlon at the Wisconsin Elite Invitational in Madison, Wis., which starts Friday and runs through Saturday.

Angel split up the team in order to view Ledbetter and Riley’s progress in the heptathlon while allowing enough time before the Indoor Big Ten Championships to make adjustments.

“The other heptathlon we have is the Cyclone Classic, which is the third week of February,” Angel said. “You can’t fix things in two weeks but I can fix them now.”

With a limited number of athletes making the trip to New York City next week, Saturday could help decide the lineup, giving the athletes even more motivation.

“It’s great to have teammates where we push each other in practice, it helps us to make each other better,” Illinois sophomore Cody Wisslead said.

“We want the momentum of this meet heading to New York. You have to prove to me and the coaches that you’re ready to compete at that level,” Angel said.