Regionally qualifying a priority for Illinois men’s track and field

Illinois+Cody+Wisslead+competes+in+the+60+meter+hurdles+during+the+2009+Carle%2FHealth+Alliance+Invite+at+the+Armory+on+January+24%2C+2008.%0A

Illinois’ Cody Wisslead competes in the 60 meter hurdles during the 2009 Carle/Health Alliance Invite at the Armory on January 24, 2008.

By Kevin Kaplan

Qualifying for the NCAA Regional Championships early in the outdoor track and field season reduces a lot of pressure. And finding success early is something that Illinois men’s track head coach Wayne Angel sees as crucial for building a team that can score points at the Big Ten Championships.

Four individuals qualified in six events for regionals at last week’s ASU Invitational, which helps them focus on training as this weekend’s Florida Relays in Gainesville, Fla., approach.

“Once you (qualify for regionals), you can really get back and start doing some work,” Angel said. “You don’t have to let off in training. With (Gakologelwang) Masheto and that group that went to Arizona, we did some pretty good training this week and we want to continue that.”

Explaining why so many Illini will be competing this weekend in both Florida and the Big Blue Classic in Charleston, Ill., Angel said he wants to qualify as many people for regionals as soon as possible. When athletes qualify sooner, they have more time to prepare for the Big Ten Championships on May 15-17.

During the indoor season, many Illini neither qualified for nationals nor scored at the Big Ten Championships.

“We’re still not where we should be in terms of strength in numbers as far as scoring,” Angel said. “The most important thing for this program is, all the scoring can’t be in one area like the sprints. We’ve got to get some help from the distance, we’ve got to get some help from the field events.”

Hurdler Cody Wisslead can’t think about the Big Ten Championships yet because he still has to qualify for regionals, but he knows his contributions will be key when track becomes a team sport.

“This weekend I’m focused more individually on getting my regional mark in the 400-meter hurdles,” Wisslead said. “As far as Big Ten goes, team-wise, our sprint group is going to score the majority of the points, so I think we all need to focus team-wise when it gets closer to Big Ten.”