Illini track & field heads to Nashville for final away meet of indoor regular season


Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Runner Allison McGrath runs during the Commodore Classic in 2018. McGrath was one of two to win an event during the Meyo Invitational and will be competing in the Indoor Music City Challenge this weekend.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

The Illini are heading to Nashville, Tennessee, for the Indoor Music City Challenge, hosted by Vanderbilt, on Friday and Saturday.

Another week brings another big meet for the Illini, which will prepare them well for the rest of the season.

Teams participating this weekend are Alabama, Arkansas State, Cincinnati, Duke, Eastern Kentucky, Florida International, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Kentucky, Lipscomb, Louisiana State, Memphis, Meridian Community College, Miami (Ohio), Michigan State, Mississippi State, Murray State, Ole Miss, Penn State, Samford, SMU, Southern Illinois, Southern Miss, Tennessee, Texas A&M, UMass Lowell, Villanova and Western Illinois.

Many teams are competing, but the level of competition may be the hardest yet for the Illini. 

This week’s men’s national track rankings include No. 4 Georgia, No. 9 Florida, No. 10 Tennessee, No. 14 Alabama and No. 16 Texas A&M. The women’s rankings include No. 1 Florida, No. 4 LSU, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 11 Ole Miss, No. 18 Tennessee, No. 24 Georgia and No. 25 Penn State.

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This challenge could not better prepare for the Illini two weeks away from the Big Ten Championships.

An athlete looking forward to this weekend is graduate student Allison McGrath. 

“I feel like I have grown and matured a lot in terms of fitness and racing strategy because I have gotten more and more racing experience,” McGrath said.

More experience will come this weekend with a competition resembling the championship meets.

“I feel like staying positive, keeping an open mind and always being confident is what helps me race,” McGrath said. “I’m hoping to do really well and score for the team because that is the main goal.” 

McGrath was one of two Illini to win an event last weekend at the Meyo Invitational in South Bend, Indiana, and is looking to race again at a high level this weekend.

Placing well in the 5k event this weekend would help the team in such a big meet, and McGrath is capable.

With the 12 ranked teams participating this weekend, many top collegiate athletes in the country will participate in the Music City Challenge, including the Illini’s own junior Olivia Howell, who has dominated as of late.

Several athletes from the schools will be on the Bowerman midseason watch list, which goes to the top male and female track & field athletes of the year.

Matthew Boling (Georgia junior, sprints), Sean Burrell (LSU sophomore, hurdles), Joseph Fanhbulleh (Florida sophomore, sprints) and Brandon Miller (Texas A&M sophomore, mid-distance) are all on the list for the men.

Jasmine Moore (Florida junior, jumps), Grace Stark (Florida sophomore, sprints/hurdles) and Shey Taiwo (Ole Miss senior, throws) make the list for the women. 

Last year’s male and female winners of the Bowerman award will be present as well, as JuVaughn Harrison from LSU and Athing Mu from Texas A&M are tough to beat.

The meet will be broadcasted on the SEC Network+ starting coverage at 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday at noon. Live updates can also be found at Music City Challenge (

Next week the Illini return home for the Illini Classic at the Armory, and the all-day meet on Feb. 18 will be the final meet for the men and women before the Big Ten Indoor Championships.



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