Riley, Illinois track wrap up Iowa State Classic

By Kevin Kaplan

On the drive back to Champaign from Iowa, Wayne Angel was in a great mood.

Before the Iowa State Classic, the Illinois men’s track and field head coach explained the goals for the meet as “run fast … get some qualifying marks … increase our confidence level heading into the Big Ten Championships.”

After a light week of practice, his sprinters accomplished all three.

“The rest was timely and it paid off, we had all kinds of breakthroughs,” Angel said.

The “breakthrough” that had Angel most excited was that of Andrew Riley.

The freshman from Kingston, Jamaica, advanced to the finals in both the 60-meter dash and 60-meter hurdles. In the 60-meter hurdles, Riley placed fourth with an NCAA Indoor Championships provisional-qualifying time of 7.84 seconds.

Riley’s 60-meter hurdle time ranks second in Illini history. The time also gave Riley the second-best time in the Big Ten to Purdue’s Josh Hembrough, who Riley beat by .04 seconds on Saturday.

“When you look at Riley … the kid’s just an amazing talent,” Angel said. “He loves to compete, and I like that about him.”

Riley led a string of strong performances from the Illinois sprinting and middle-distance runners. Gary Miller provisionally qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 800 meters in his best performance as an Illini (1:49.75). Freshman Hendrik Maartens also ran his fastest time as an Illini in the 400 meters (47.90).

Gakologelwang Masheto capped it all off with a second-place finish in the 400 meters (46.87) and a strong leg in the 4×400 meter relay (3:09.33), which improved upon its previous provisional-qualifying time.

“When you look at it all … I’d say we had a heck of a meet and am pretty excited about the next couple of weeks,” Angel said, while acknowledging that Illinois still lacks depth in some areas such as distance and field events that they will need to be successful in the Big Ten Championships. “We’ve still got some areas that are vulnerable. We knew that coming in and these guys are going to have to carry the load.”

While the men found their breakthrough this past weekend, the women’s track and field team already had experienced theirs a week ago at Indiana and Kentucky.

“We just wanted to keep our momentum going into the Big Ten meet and I think we did that,” women’s head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said of her team’s performance at the Iowa State Classic.

The weekend did bring one major first for the women, as it was the only time this season that the entire squad competed at the same place at the same time. Illinois’ distance team started off its indoor season last week at a different location than the sprinters.

Illinois’ distance effort at Iowa State was highlighted by junior Angela Bizzarri, who provisionally qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships after a fourth-place finish in the mile (4:43.29).

Bizzarri has run two races this season and achieved qualifying marks after each of them, automatically in the 3,000 meters and now provisionally in the mile.

“I was happy with my races,” Bizzarri said, while recognizing that the Big Ten is a competitive field. “It went pretty well, but I think there are a lot of people that have provisional marks. My goal for the season is to keep on improving and I feel like I’ve done that.”