Illini keep nerves at bay at championship practice

The Illinois men’s track and field roster for the NCAA Outdoor Championships consists of a freshman, a junior and a senior.

Though there’s a disparity in ages, each has approached the trip to Fayetteville, Ark., with similar levels of calmness.

“I try to be as calm as possible each race,” said freshman Andrew Riley, who has always competed with a special calm and focus throughout the season.

That composure helped him set the school record in the 110-meter hurdles earlier this season. He hopes to lower that time even further in the finals of the race at nationals, where his goal is to finish in 13.5 seconds, which would drop .11 seconds off his personal-best.

But while Riley’s season has met his expectations overall, the same could not be said for senior Andrew Zollner, who has been plagued by injuries for nearly the entire season.

“My whole college career, I’ve been fully aware of my potential in the vault, and I just haven’t really met it,” Zollner said. “This season’s been less than ideal I mean, I barely even hit the regional-qualifying standard, and I only hit it once and I hit exactly what it was.”

Though Zollner ‘kind of seemed out of place’ at regionals, he achieved a personal-best performance in the pole vault at the meet. The performance was seemingly out of nowhere, but it has given him confidence going into his third nationals.

“I ended up jumping a personal-best, even on my poor health, so I know it’s physically possible,” Zollner said.

While Zollner is headed to his third and final nationals, junior Greg Shroka is set to make his first appearance, competing in the high jump. Simply making it to nationals is such an accomplishment that Shroka feels little pressure.

“I think, kind of what’s going through my head right now, is that I’m ready to have some fun,” Shroka said. “I’ve finally made it to nationals, so now it’s just kind of like well, might as well just go out and make the best of it.

“The worst I could do is just go there and no height, so, I’ve already done that a couple meets, so I think I’m just gonna go out and try to enjoy it and just have fun with the competition.”

However, just because Illinois’ three national-competitors are calm, it doesn’t mean they haven’t gotten nervous.

“Nervous is a thing, that … almost every athlete has going to a competition,” Riley said. “You can’t stop that, you just have to go there, and just execute, there’s nothing you can do on a track when you’re (nervous).”