Illinois takes 9 top-3 finishes at Kentucky

By Thomas Donley

The Illinois men’s track and field team had a very successful meet at Kentucky’s Rod McCravy Memorial Invitational on Jan. 24-25. The meet, which was named the USTFCCCA’s Meet of the Week, featured five nationally-ranked teams, including No. 12 Illinois.

Two Illini won event titles as part of the team’s 22 top-10 finishes. Ten Illinois athletes recorded personal bests and nine clocked times ranking in the top five of the Big Ten this season.

“I think we saw our first real high-quality competition,” head coach Mike Turk said. “We certainly had a number of people who I felt really were ready for that and they really stepped up to that.”

Zebo Zebe’s win in 600 meters highlighted the first day of competition for Illinois. Josh Jones and Malik Lee finished third and fourth in that race, respectively. Brandon Stryganek placed second in the 200, ahead of defending Big Ten champion Timothy Faust of Ohio State, with a season-best time of 21.23. Davis Fraker contributed a third-place finish in the weight throw.

Jordan Hebert and Paul Zeman each set personal bests and broke the meet record in the 5,000, finishing second and fourth, respectively. Hebert’s time of 14:21.84 is the second-fastest in the Big Ten this season and fifth nationally, while Zeman’s 14:30.60 is sixth in the conference.

Illinois’ distance medley relay made its season debut at Kentucky on Friday, as Luke Carroll, Stephon Pamilton, Joe McAsey and Liam Markham teamed up to break meet and facility records to finish second with a time of 9:36.24, 0.13 seconds behind Virginia. Illinois’ time is the fastest in the Big Ten, second-fastest in the country and the second-fastest in school history.

“Our DMR was fantastic for this early in the season,” Turk said in a press release. “They showed that we are capable at making another successful run at the NCAA Championships. I am especially pleased with the performance considering we have three new pairs of legs on the team this year. That’s a real tribute to quality and depth being developed in our middle distance program.”

Illinois carried its success over to Saturday’s events as Carroll won the mile race with a time of 4:07.91, the third-fastest time in the Big Ten. Vanier Joseph finished fifth in the Blue section of the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 7.91, fifth-fastest in the Big Ten, while David Kendziera and Cam Viney finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the White section. Stryganek and Julian Smith each finished sixth in their respective sections of the 60 meters.

DJ Zahn recorded a personal record 47.82 in the 400, the third-fastest time in the Big Ten. Joe McAsey finished eighth in the 800 with the third-fastest time in the Big Ten. Jannis Toepfer finished third in the 3,000 with a personal best 8:08.85, which ranks fourth in the conference and sixth in Illinois history. The 4×400 relay placed sixth with a season best time of 3:13.85.

George Wayda finished fifth in his first career heptathlon with 5,040 points, the fifth-best score in school history. Branden Tanthavong finished 10th in the triple jump, and Cody Klein took ninth in the pole vault.

“We’ve got a group of guys that is very competitive,” Turk said. “I’ve always told them, ‘Whenever you step on a track, it presents an opportunity.’ And so I want to see them always try to put their focus and best effort forward, and I think we did that real well.”

Thomas can be reached at [email protected]