Illini come into Twilight Invite with strong early outdoor season

By Christopher Kennedy

This Saturday marks Illinois’ first home outdoor track meet since 2010. And after four years, the team is ready to put on a show for its home fans. 

 “We’re going to be out in full force and everybody’s gonna be out on the track,” said head coach Mike Turk. “Every event’s going to have somebody pretty good in it.”

The Illini come into the Twilight Invite as the No. 30 team in the country and they’ll be hosting a range of teams from around the Midwest. The field includes defending indoor and outdoor Missouri Valley Conference champions Indiana State and Big Ten rival Iowa, as well as in-state opponents like Eastern Illinois, Loyola-Chicago.

Hurdler Vanier Joseph has started off the season on strong, winning the 110-meter hurdles in each of the Illini’s first two meets. That has earned him a No. 8 national ranking and this weekend he’ll face off against two other top hurdlers from Indiana State. The Sycamores’ Greggmar Smith has also won his first two 110 hurdle races and is ranked No. 4. His teammate, Maurice Lyke also holds a No.20 rank.

“I’m really excited for it. During this time last year, I was hurt and not competing right now,” said Joseph. “I’m just really excited to see what I’m going to be doing for the next two, three weeks. “

Joseph’s hurdle teammate Cam Viney has also had a very strong start. He has won the 400-meter hurdles two weeks in a row, and hasn’t been all that far behind Joseph in the 110 hurdles.

“We expect those guys to run well. I think both of those guys we want to see in the national meet,” said Turk.  “They’re running great for this time of year, they’re both well ahead of where they were last year.”

The early season success of the Illini’s relay teams will also be tested Saturday. Both relays have run their way to top-15 national rankings, No. 11 for the 4×100-meter team and No.9 for the 4×400-meter team.

“We take pride in running our relays at a high level. I think it shows the overall quality and depth that we have in our program,” said Turk. “I’m really, really pleased with what we’re doing in the relays.”

The 4×100 team will face off against a No.10 Iowa squad that currently holds the top mark in the Big Ten.

Meanwhile, the revamped 4×400 will try to continue its early season success against a top-40 ranked Loyola team. Turk is confident in the team’s performance so far this season.

“In the 4×4 we’ve changed some personnel this year. We’ve got a freshman on that, we’ve worked in Joey McCasey as well and we haven’t missed a beat,” said Turk.

On the field side, pole vaulters Michael Viken and Peter Geraghety from Eastern Illinois are ranked No.9 and No.25 respectively. Illinois’s pole vaulters weren’t able to score at indoor Big Tens, but now have a chance to compete with two nationally ranked vaulters.

The Illini hope that triple jumper Brendan Tanthavong can continue his early progress as he faces off against two top-20 ranked jumpers from Iowa and Loyola-Chicago. If he keeps jumping well, Tanthavong has a chance to make an impact for the Illini at Big Tens. Only three Big Ten triple jumpers are ranked in the current national top-48 and the top 8 athletes score.

Graduate student distance runner Jannis Toepfer is the oldest member of the track team and this will be his first chance to compete outdoors at home. He will run in the 1500-meters and the 5000-meters after a dominant performance at Auburn’s Tiger Track Classic last week. It was also Toepfer’s first time breaking the 14-minute barrier in the 5000.

 “We’re definitely off to a good start,” said Toepfer. “It’s pretty exciting for all of us to just race in front of our home crowd.”

Chris can be reached at [email protected]