Illinois Twilight Invite will be Illini men’s track and field team’s 1st home meet in 4 years

By Christopher Kennedy

It’s been a while since the Illini last hosted an outdoor track meet. The Illinois Twilight Invite was last run in 2010. A few months earlier the Winter Olympics wrapped up — in Vancouver, and Peyton Manning just lost the Super Bowl to the Saints.

“I get friends that ask me like ‘When’s our home meet?‘ last year,” senior hurdler Vanier Joseph said. “It’s unheard of for a school not to have a home meet.”

It’s been so long that some of the Illini’s most experienced athletes don’t even know how long it’s been.

“I think it’s the first meet in 10 years or whatever,” graduate student distance runner Jannis Toepfer said. Joseph echoed his sentiments.

That won’t be a problem anymore though. On Saturday, for the first time since 2010, Illinois will host a home outdoor meet: the Illinois Twilight Invitational.

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Over the last few years, the Illini have hosted multiple indoor meets at the Armory, including three this year: the Illini Open, the Illini Classic, and the Orange and Blue Open. 

Joseph transferred to Illinois from Eastern Michigan after his sophomore season and said his former school hosted two or three outdoor meets each season. He said he thinks it’s crazy for a school not to host an outdoor home meet and said that some schools even host meets year-round.

“It’s difficult with our facility and with the weather conditions that we get, it’s kind of hard for us to establish a date to have a home meet,” head coach Mike Turk said.

“You never really know what you get out of the weather. … If the weather would be way more consistent, yes, it would make more sense to try to do more meets here,” Toepfer said. “The way it is, it makes sense to travel to places like Auburn and out west.”

Turk said Illinois used to host a meet on the weekend of April for years until some troubles came up.

“We’ve always wanted one,” Turk said. “About four years ago we stopped having this meet because we were having trouble drawing teams, but really, the women’s coach at the time really didn’t want a meet here at home, so that’s why it kind of fell by the wayside for a couple years.”

This year’s edition of the meet provides a new beginning though, according to Turk.

“Coach (Ron) Garner’s been great to work with,” Turks said of the current women’s track coach. “He knows the value of having competitions here at home, and we want to use our facility, and so we got a chance, and we’re lucky to have some pretty quality teams come in here, and hopefully we can build on that in the future.”

Now that the Illini once again have an outdoor meet at home, they can reap the rewards. One advantage for the team is not having to travel.

“It’s nice to go to Auburn, Alabama and LSU and California, but it wears them out. The travel gets kind of tough,” Turk said. He thinks the lack of “wear and tear” from travelling will help the team down the road as it moves into the heart of the outdoor schedule.

Not travelling has an added benefit for Toepfer; it allows him a chance to catch up on his schoolwork.

“With my aerospace program I’m a little behind right now and it’s a good way to catch up with work because you don’t lose anything,” Toepfer said. “Basically you do your meet, then you go back about your business.”

But the biggest advantage of competing at home is clear to everyone: getting to race in front of the home crowd.

“It’s just nice actually seeing one on our schedule and being able to tell people … I can’t even get the word out quick enough,” Joseph said.  “We can have our friends, our families, just have the school support us and the Illini Nation just be able to come and see what we do also and be recognized for our abilities.”

Toepfer is also excited the team gets a chance to run for the hometown fans.

“For us, it’s a good thing to just present ourselves, to get some attention, to bring some strong marks,” Toepfer said. “Because when you have people watching you, and your friends and family are there, obviously you want to compete to the best of your abilities. We’re looking forward to some strong performances.”

Toepfer also says he sees the importance of hosting meets, and hopes the team can host one each season, through cross-country, indoor and outdoor track.

Turk hopes this is just the start of outdoor home meets for the Illini and that there are several other ideas for home events being worked on.

For now though, Turk is focused on this weekend.

“We really want to put on a good performance, a great performance for our hometown fans,” Turk said. “I think the guys get pretty pumped up. … They like to run when their classmates and their parents and family have a chance to see them compete. … We’ll put on a pretty good show.”

Chris can be reached at [email protected].