Haight continues to improve since walk-on season


Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Joe Haight has come a long way from being a freshman walk-on.

By Jared Farmer, Staff Writer

Junior Joe Haight has come a long way since he joined the Illinois men’s track and field team as a walk-on for the 2016 outdoor season.

“I think in the back of my mind, I wanted to be a part of the team,” Haight said. “The coaches originally asked me to join when I was in high school, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I joined the club team, I figured I’d just stay there, honestly. I thought doing so would be a good way to stay in shape in college and meet new people.”

Originally, Haight didn’t intend on joining the club team. He initially intended to play club soccer, which didn’t pan out due to him missing the intramural tryouts. He decided to join the club team shortly after because of his sister.

“I think I got emailed from coach Adrian Wheatley sometime in March,” Haight said. “I had to go through all the legal stuff so I could qualify to run. I finally joined the team after their first meet in April that year.”

In his debut season, Haight was determined to prove he belonged. His underdog mentality continually pushed him to work harder.

His first season concluded when he competed at the 2016 Big Ten Championship for the 200-meter dash. He also won first place in the 200-meter in the Illini Open and set a personal- best 200-meter time of 21.57 seconds.

“The upperclassmen really helped me develop,” Haight said. “Guys like David Kendzeira, Kenneth Adams and Matt Burns pushed me throughout hard workouts and practices, and they taught me how to run the 400-meter. They showed me that every day, practice and workout matters. If you’re not taking steps to get better, there’s always somebody else who certainly is.”

As a sophomore, Haight set a personal-best 400-meter time with 47.82 seconds  and ran the lead leg of the 4×400-meter relay that got sixth overall at the Big Ten Championships. He also shaved time off his original 200-meter personal best with a new time of 21.41 seconds.

He continued his growth in the outdoor season, placing runner-up in the 200-meter and fourth in the 400-meter at the UNLV Invite. He ran a leg for a 4×100-meter relay team that finished sixth at the Texas Relays, setting a personal best in the 100-meter (10.59 seconds) and continuing to shave time off his 200-meter personal best (21.42 seconds). In the Big Ten Championship outdoors, Haight ran the lead leg of the 4×400-meter relay, where the Illini placed eighth.

This season, Haight has begun to emerge as one of the fastest members of the Illini team. He continues to climb both Big Ten and NCAA rankings after setting three new personal bests for the 400-meter. In the indoor Big Ten Championships, Haight ran 47.08 seconds in the 400-meter to finish seventh, dropping just under three-fourths of a second from his best 400-meter in the season prior.

His outdoor season continues to go well. He dropped his 400-meter time even further at the Jim Click Shootout this past weekend when he ran 46.85 seconds, just under two seconds faster than his previous personal best. He also ran the first sub-21 200-meter of his career, winning at the SIU Bill Cornell Spring Classic with 20.95 seconds.

“I’ve passed all of my goals that I set for myself this season, time-wise,” Haight said. “Hopefully I can keep dropping that even more than I expected for the rest of the season. I’d also like to see if our relays can make some noise at Big Ten’s this year.”

As Haight’s role with the team continues to grow, so does his role as a leader. Haight believes it’s been a good experience being involved as an active leader on the team, whether it’s leading stretches or workouts or giving advice to younger teammates.

“These people have become some of my best friends on campus,” Haight said. “I was surprised at how friendly and welcoming everyone was when I first joined the team. That’s definitely helped make all of this an easy transition.”


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