Three Illini advance to nationals

After a disappointing Big Ten Championships, Illinois men’s track and field head coach Wayne Angel said he liked what he saw at the NCAA Regional Championships, where Illinois placed 12th out of 43 teams at the Mid East Regional held in Louisville, Ky., this weekend.

After placing ninth in the Big Ten, Illinois beat Big Ten teams Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State at regionals.

“That to me shows the quality of athletes that we have and that we have a better program in terms of a national-type level program, which I’m very pleased about that,” Angel said.

Illinois’ 21 points were scored by three athletes, all of whom advanced to the NCAA Outdoor Championships on June 10-13 after top-five finishes in their events. Illinois’ top finisher was freshman Andrew Riley, who placed second in the 110-meter hurdles after running a time of 13.74 seconds.

Junior Greg Shroka placed fourth in the high jump on Friday after a personal-best leap of seven feet, one inch, which ranks second in Illinois history. Angel used the word ‘consistent’ to describe Shroka, a scorer at Big Ten. Shroka said he took that to mean that he consistently improves.

“I’ve kind of progressed little by little each week and (am) starting to peak now and hopefully haven’t peaked yet – hopefully I’ll peak in two weeks,” Shroka said.

While Shroka did well in both Big Tens and regionals, senior Andrew Zollner was plagued by injury for most of the season, and found his best performance at regionals.

“I came into the season I was strong I was fast, and probably one week into the season I realized I had a fractured tibia,” Zollner said. “I really haven’t felt healthy enough to jump all season and I don’t know, it’s hindered me from jumping high and for some reason today I stepped on the track and didn’t seem to feel anything too bad. Lack of pain makes it easier to jump.”

Zollner is now about to make his third trip to nationals, and hopes to stand on the winner’s podium, though his ability to do so will hinge on his health.

While Zollner has found good luck with his health during regionals, senior Gakologelwang Masheto found the opposite. Suffering from knee pain, the esteemed Illinois athlete was unable to compete in any event in his last regionals.

“There’s not a lot that he needs to prove to me or to Illinois and that was the call and I wasn’t going to force him to do anything he didn’t want to do,” said Angel of the six-time Big Ten Champion, two-time All-American and Olympian.

“It’s not a good way to end your college career,” Masheto said. “So it’s kind of bad to me but there’s nothing I can do, I still have goals to accomplish, hopefully to run for my country, it’s not the end of everything, you know.”