Men, women’s track shine, regionally qualify

It was a long weekend for Gary Miller.

Rather than travel with his team Thursday to Gainesville, Fla., for the Florida Relays, the men’s track and field junior needed to take care of some other things first.

A member of the ROTC, Miller had a field-training exercise the same weekend as the meet. As the Illini traveled to Florida, Miller went to train in Camp Atterbury in Indiana.

After training for most of Thursday and Friday, Miller drove from Camp Atterbury to Indianapolis, where he caught a flight to Florida. He landed at 2 a.m. Saturday, the same day he was set to compete in the 4×400 meter relay and sprint medley.

Five hours of sleep did not slow Miller down, as he contributed to a 4×400 relay that dropped its NCAA Regional qualifying time by 1.55 seconds to 3 minutes, 6.83 seconds.

“Everybody stepped up to the plate and did their thing, it was beautiful the way they ran,” Miller said.

Illinois men’s head coach Wayne Angel sees room for improvement for the relay team, which also consists of freshman Hendrik Maartens, sophomore Daniel Jones and senior Gakologelwang Masheto.

“We dropped a whole second, and these guys are still learning how to take off properly … and some of them had pretty bad hand-offs, so it can improve anywhere from two to three seconds down the road,” Angel said.

While very tired, Miller knows that while one long week is ending, a long week of practice is about to begin.

“It’s going to be painful,” Miller said. “(Coach Angel’s) ideology is that if you (regionally) qualify for your race early, that leaves you more time to train.”

Miller expects to have three tough days of practice this week, one more than he likely would have had if he needed to run his fastest time in a race.

The ideology of intensifying training soon after an athlete regionally qualifies is not shared by women’s head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey, whose team regionally qualified in four events at the Texas Relays in Austin, Texas.

“You’re still preparing for competition, I just don’t believe in training through the competition this time of year because if the marks get really bad, then that’s no good at all,” Buford-Bailey said.

Senior Deserea Brown regionally qualified in the 4×400 meter relay and dropped 2.14 seconds off her previous qualifying 400-meter hurdles time, finishing in 58.58 seconds.

Brown was joined in qualifying for the 400-meter hurdles by freshman Latoya Griffith, who regionally qualified with a time of 1:00.53. Both Brown and Griffith benefited from their competition when, after missing the collegiate heats because of the Illini’s travel plans, they were placed in a special invitational section that contained professional runners.

Up next for the Illini women is the Sun Angel Track Classic in Tempe, Ariz., where Buford-Bailey hopes most of her potential athletes will qualify regionally.

However, having already regionally qualified in two events, one might wonder if Brown will be taking it easier than most of her teammates. According to Brown, she will not.

“I’m going to try to see how fast I can run, not to stop or be content with these times right now,” Brown said.