Illini look to continue winning ways at Kentucky

By Thomas Donley

The No. 12 Illinois men’s track and field team will travel to Lexington, Ky., this weekend for the Rod McCravy Memorial Invitational on Jan. 24-25. This will be the Illini’s first road meet of the season. 

Illinois will look to take first place as a team for the second straight meet after finishing first at the Illini Classic last weekend, in which it racked up 227.50 points while dominating the seven-team field. 

Several Illini will look to continue personal winning streaks at Kentucky. David Kendziera has finished first in the 60-meter hurdles and the long jump in each of the first two meets this season, as have Brandon Stryganek in the 60-meter dash, Davis Fraker in the weight throw and Branden Tanthavong in the triple jump. Stryganek also finished first in the 200 at the Illini Classic, and DJ Zahn is coming off a win in the 400 in the last meet.

Illinois head coach Mike Turk expects three of his top performers to return this weekend from injuries that have held them out all season. Turk believes sprinter Stephon Pamilton and hurdler Vanier Joseph are good to go and that pole vaulter Matt Bane is probable, and the team will benefit from their returns. 

“They’re a big shot in the arm for us,” Turk said. “I was real pleased with how last week we competed real well and had great results without those guys. Every year you’re going to have great kids that are seniors that are going to leave or some guys that get hurt, and you have to have somebody else ready and stepping up into that role, and I think we saw a little bit of that last week.”

Four other top-25 teams will take part in the Rod McCravy Memorial such as No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Oregon, No. 18 Baylor and No. 24 Alabama. Big Ten rival Ohio State will also be a part of the 14-team field at Lexington this weekend. 

“The competition this week will be really, really good,” Turk said. “I think we’ll learn some things about ourselves and our team. I know this about our guys: They’re going to go out and compete really hard, and I think we’ll find some things we need to work on, and I think we’ll find some things that are pleasant surprises.”

The Illini will debut their distance medley relay this weekend, earlier in the season than in previous years because of new NCAA rule changes that prevent teams from qualifying relay teams after the conference meets.

The McCravy Memorial is a two-day meet, affording Illinois the opportunity to have athletes run on back-to-back days in order to see how they respond to a test similar to a conference meet.

The meet, which lasts all day Friday and Saturday, will be streamed on Kentucky’s website.

Thomas can be reached at [email protected]