Illini men’s track and field gives strong showing at home meet

By Chris Kennedy

The Illinois men’s track and field team had a successful home meet Saturday at the Orange and Blue Open. 

The Illini competed without several of their top athletes, who rested this weekend in preparation for the Big Ten Championships next Saturday. Aside from unattached runners, only three teams competed in the meet: Illinois, Illinois State and Missouri Baptist. Illinois State won the event, but Illinois was able to succeed in the events in which it competed.

Even in this smaller meet setting, Illini athletes were able to put together some strong performances. 

“The mind set definitely doesn’t change,” sophomore hurdler Cam Viney said. “A race is still a race, and so we’re trying to give it our all, no matter what the competition is or where the meet’s at.” 

Viney won the 60-meter hurdles, finishing neck-and-neck with freshman teammate Dave Kendziera. Kendziera’s performance was one of the highlights of the meet, as he dipped below eight seconds for the first time, recording a new personal best of 7.97 seconds.

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A few other events were also top-heavy with Illini. The 60 meters featured another tight finish for the top two spots. Fuad Akinbiyi finished in 6.94 seconds, just five-hundredths of a second in front of teammate Maurice Watkins. 

The 3,000 meters was stacked with Illini competitors. Sophomore Ian Barnett took first in 8 minutes, 26.46 seconds, followed by teammates Paul Zeman and Tommy King at 8:30.64 and 8:34.77, respectively. 

On the field side, Illini Matthew Bane and Blaze Galardy placed first and second in the pole vault, respectively.  

“I’m making little improvements that are showing a little more in each meet,” Bane said. “It’s something that if you’re a pole vaulter, you see it, but from the outside it may not look like much.”

With the Orange and Blue Open in the books, the Illini turn their attention to Big Tens next weekend in Geneva, Ohio; however, this past weekend has definite implications for the conference championships. Some athletes were competing for a chance to be on the Big Ten roster, and head coach Mike Turk said he thinks some did just that. 

“Somebody earned their way on today, I’m sure,” Turk said. “There were a couple guys that definitely showed that they were ready and ran their best today and certainly worth more consideration.” 

Potential roster changes aren’t the only impact this weekend may have on Big Tens. 

“When our guys see the guys that did compete today and they know that they’re hitting PRs (personal records) and running fast times, they know there’s a carry-over,“ Turk said. “They know that when everybody here is PR-ing, they know they’re ready to PR, too.

“The competitiveness is there, and we’ll have a good showing (at Big Tens).”

Chris can be reached at [email protected]