Men’s track taking it easy for Orange and Blue Open

The Illinois men’s track and field squad will bring a new look to its fourth meet of the season.

The Illini will host the Orange and Blue Open on Saturday, held at the UI Armory. The event comprises of an easier batch of competitors than they saw last weekend at their first road meet of the season in Lincoln, Neb. The team placed the event on their schedule for just that reason, as Illinois begins the championship portion of its season next weekend when it travels to Fayetteville, Ark., for the Tyson Invitational.

The Orange and Blue Open will give Illinois an opportunity to stay active in preparation and to be conservative with athletes who are dealing with injuries.

“Number one, I want to see us stay healthy,” Illinois head coach Mike Turk said. “We’re going to be real careful this weekend. We’ve been going pretty hard in training and it’s going real well, and right now we’re in midseason form. So we’re going to be careful.”

Freshman Brandon Stryganek will be held out of the meet this weekend to keep his legs fresh for the Tyson Invitational and the Big Ten Championships, starting Feb. 24. Senior Andrew Riley will not compete to stay fresh, but he has to keep his body intact for not only the championship meets, but also the 2012 Olympics trials, where he will attempt to compete for his native homeland Jamaica.

“This week we’re just trying to keep things polished,” senior Stanley Azie said. “I know a couple of us are doing different events this week, it’s really just good to polish things up and see some different things so we can get ready for Tyson.”

With certain athletes being held out of the event, Turk can put some of his runners into races that they do not normally run, providing him an opportunity to evaluate the athletes and determine what race configurations are best for his squad.

“We want to see some people do some things a little different, we’re going to be running some people in different races, we want to see people be sharp,” Turk said.

Perhaps the biggest point of interest for the Illini this weekend is the unveiling of sophomore Ryan Lankford, a wide receiver on the Illinois football team. This will be the first meet of the year in which Lankford will be available for the Illini, and the squad is hopeful that his athleticism will help the team take the overall victory and move on to its future meets with a greater confidence.

“Ryan is a fantastic track athlete,” Turk said. “He was one of the national leaders in the long jump in high school and among the national leaders in the sprints. We’ve been waiting for two years, and Coach Beckman has been terrific in his understanding of his talents and allowing him to track as well as his football duties.”

This weekend’s meet will certainly have a different feel for the Illini, but the team knows that cannot take away from its mission Saturday and beyond.

“I always stress to the guys that this may not be as high caliber of a meet as the Big Ten or even the Arkansas meets are,” Turk said. “But if you’re getting on the track you get focused and do your best.”