Illinois men’s track and field heads to Big Ten Championships


Illinois’ Blaze Galardy attempts to avoid the pole during the Men’s Pole Vault event at the Orange & Blue meet at the Armory on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. Illinois’ men’s team won 1st place out of 4.

By Will Small

This weekend, the Illinois men’s track and field team will try to do something it hasn’t done in more than 25 years: Win the Big Ten Indoor Championship.

With a runner-up finish in 2013 and a fourth-place finish last season, the Illini have come close to capturing the elusive title in recent years but have not won the meet since 1989.

The Big Ten Indoor Championship will take place this Friday and Saturday at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio. 

Along with frontrunners No. 9 Penn State, No. 15 Wisconsin and No. 22 Nebraska, Illinois is once again poised to finish at the top.

Illinois is familiar with many of the Big Ten teams after competing against them earlier this winter. The Illini handily defeated Iowa in a dual meet and have also gone head-to-head against Ohio State and Nebraska this season.

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After many of the Illini athletes took last weekend off, the team is healthy going into the Big Ten Indoor Championships, much to the delight of head coach Mike Turk.

“We’re healthy, and that is critical right now,” Turk said. “Fortunately, we’re in good shape, and I don’t have any concerns on injuries.”

The 200 meters has been one of Illinois’ strongest events this season. Seniors DJ Zahn and Brandon Stryganek hold the second- and third-fastest times in the Big Ten this season, behind only Ricco Hall from Nebraska. Hall defeated both Illini sprinters earlier this year, so this weekend’s meet will be another chance for the trio to face off.

Zahn also holds the fastest Big Ten time this season in the 400. But that is not the only factor that makes him a contender in the event. At last year’s Big Ten Indoor Championships, Zahn finished second overall, giving him experience at the top of a conference meet.

Zahn has been an integral piece for the Illini, and he will need to continue his pattern of strong performances this weekend for Illinois to leave Ohio with the championship.

Junior Joe McAsey is among the favorites going into the 600 and 800 meters this weekend. McAsey has run the fastest time in conference this season in the 800 and the sixth-best time in the 600.

The pole vault is an event that has been building momentum lately. Senior Matthew Bane and juniors Mitch Mammoser and Blaze Galardy know they are starting to perform well at an important time.

“Between Matthew, Blaze and myself, us jumpers are starting to peak at the right time,” Mammoser said. “I don’t see why we can’t get a couple of us to medal at Big Tens.”

Another field event that has been putting up big results is the high jump. Jonathan Wells is one of the top high jumpers in not only the Big Ten, but across the nation. As a freshman, Wells currently has the second-highest jump of the season among Big Ten athletes and 15th out of the entire NCAA.

Illinois is one of the many contenders at this weekend’s Big Ten Indoor Championships, but the Illini know they have to compete at an almost flawless level to bring home the win.

“From a team standpoint, we can’t have any mess-ups,” Mammoser said. “Everyone is going to need to bring their A-games.”

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