Illini men’s track and field have strong showing to win windy Twilight Invite

Illinois%27+Brandon+Stryganek+runs+the+100+meter+dash+during+the+Illinois+Twilight+Track+and+Field+meet+at+Illinois+Soccer+and+Track+Stadium%2C+on+Saturday%2C+April+12%2C+2014.

Illinois' Brandon Stryganek runs the 100 meter dash during the Illinois Twilight Track and Field meet at Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium, on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

Illinois track and field is not used to competing outdoors in front of an orange-clad crowd, and the Twilight Invite was a perfect opportunity for fans to turn out to support the team.

Warm spring weather added incentive for fans to show up, but winds reached nearly 30 miles per hour when running events kicked off at 5 p.m. The strong gusts didn’t faze the Illini men’s team though, as it won the first Twilight Invite since 2010 by 95 points.

For some athletes, the winds made things better. The 100-meter dash, 200 meters, and 110-meter hurdles were run with the wind at the athletes’ backs. In the 110 hurdles, strong competition and a strong tailwind created the perfect storm for senior Vanier Joseph. He won the event in 13.41 seconds, good for the fastest time in the country this season.

“I was actually really surprised about the time, I didn’t think it was going to be that fast,” Joseph said. “I’m happy with that fast (of a time) and I’m glad it was because I know I’m capable of it, and I’m capable of more.”

Joseph won the race by just 0.02 seconds over Indiana State’s Greggmar Swift, who came into the meet with the nation’s fourth fastest time.

“He’s starting to really believe in himself and his preparation … his confidence is growing,” head coach Mike Turk said. “That’s what’s really making the difference.”

The Illini also had strong performances in events in which they had to deal with the wind. The 4×100-meter relay team won handily after Iowa blew its final exchange.

“We train in this wind every day, so it’s nothing different than practice,” said junior sprinter Brandon Stryganek, who ran on the relay and won the 100.

The 4×100 team has been consistently getting faster and has performed very well in the first few weeks of the outdoor season. Turk said part of that success can be attributed to the team’s consistency. The combination of Julian Smith, Stryganek, Stephon Pamilton and DJ Zahn has run together since last season.

“We’re way ahead of where we were last year,” Turk said. “We keep everybody healthy and keep hitting our handoffs, we keep getting better.”

Turk said last year the team’s fastest time pre-Big Tens was 39.33 at Drake Relays. Their winning time Saturday was 39.61 seconds.

One of the Illini’s most impressive performances came in the 400, in which Zahn, Joe McAsey and Kenneth Allen swept the top three spots. Their performances, especially McAsey’s, turned some heads on Saturday.

“That was a huge race for him. He’s an 800 guy, it was almost kind of shocking that he ran so fast,” Turk said.

Turk also noted Allen’s performance: “Last week Kenneth ran like 47.70 down at Auburn. Great conditions, terrific track, perfect weather. And he ran faster here tonight. You can’t say that’s because of the wind or anything. That’s just a great performance.”

Zahn was a part of the 4×100 team and won the 400, but his contributions didn’t end there. He also was a member of the winning 4×400 meter team.

“DJ all year has been progressing and stepping up. He’s putting himself up in the top of the conference and NCAAs,” Turk said. “He just really stepped forward big this year.”

The team has been experimenting with the 4×400 lineup. This week’s squad of Cam Viney, McAsey, Allen and Pamilton won the race in 3 minutes, 9.34 seconds.

“We’re kind of running by committee right now … the way Joey McAsey’s been running, it gives us the luxury of having five guys we can move in and out of there.” Turk said.

Turk mentioned Viney, McAsey and Allen all can fit into the lineup’s two remaining spots with Zahn and Pamilton. He said the 4×400 lineup is still a work in progress.

The distance squad also performed well. In the 1,500 meters, Liam Markham and Graham Morris finished one-two. Ian Barnett dominated the 3,000 meters and Brendan McDonnell looked impressive with a huge finishing kick to take the 5,000 meters.

On the field side, pole vaulter Blaze Galardy came in second place, 0.05 meters behind redshirt-teammate Matt Bane. Turk noted Galardy’s development now that he’s gotten more opportunities to compete. 

“It was an awesome day,“ Turk said of Saturday’s meet. “We challenged (the team) earlier in the week. This is our one home meet outdoors, let’s make it a good one and let’s put on a show. Rain, shine, whatever, let’s put on a show.”

Chris can be reached at [email protected]