Illinois men's track prepare for Big Ten Championship

By Will Most

Tweet: .@IlliniMTrack still struggling with injuries, prepares for tough Big Ten Competition #Illini

Last indoor season, the Illinois men’s track and field team strode into the Big Ten Championship relatively injury-free, where they ran off with second place. The 2016 season is very different — the Illini limp toward the finish line, still fighting the injuries that have plagued them for most of the season.

“We’re definitely a little (worse off) than previous seasons,” head coach Mike Turk said. “There’s just nothing you can do about that injury bug. We don’t have the depth and well-rounded lineup we’d like to put out there.”

While the team competition might represent an uphill battle, Turk has intentionally maneuvered his roster so that some of the individuals who have had top finishes all season long can possibly have success beyond this season’s Big Ten meet in Geneva, Ohio. 

One example is sophomore Johnathan Wells, who Turk originally considered placing in a multi-event. But when Illinois’ coach reasoned that Wells had a far better chance of getting a conference and possible national title in events like the high jump, long jump and 60-meter hurdles, he changed his plans. 

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    Sophomore Mo Maat was supposed to compete in the long jump as well, but with his on and off injuries all season, Turk decided it would be less risky to have Maat focus on the sprints he has found success in throughout the season.

    “I still think we have a lot of potential, but track is all about staying healthy,” Wells said. “ We aren’t as healthy as we can be right now. Some teams are healthier, and thats gonna hurt us a bit.”

    The competition at the Big Ten Championship should be some of the strongest the Illinois will face all season. Three teams come in ranked in the top 25, with Purdue and Penn State leading the conference, ranked No. 15th and No. 17 respectively. 

    Despite the strength of the competition, Turk feels that his team can keep pace if they can overcome the injuries that have placed them so far behind the rest of their Big Ten competition. He’s particularly confident about the Illini’s distance group, who had both a successful Indoor track and cross country season, particularly against Big Ten competition.

    For the Big Ten Championship, Illinois will be competing in a state-of-the-art facility known as the Spire Institute. Spire, a neutral site, not only contains a track, but soccer and football fields, swimming pools as well as tennis and volleyball courts. The facility takes up 750,000 square feet of space.

    While the odds might seem against their favor in this coming weekend, Turk will consider this season a success no matter the end result.

    “I’m really proud of this team, the way they’ve turned this season around.” Turk said. “With all the injuries we’ve had, I’m really proud of where they are and how they are doing.”

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