Illinios men’s track splits squad this weekend

After a victory at their home Twilight Invite, the Illini men’s track and field team will split up this weekend to represent the Orange and Blue at two different meets: the University of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Classic and the Mt. San Antonio College Relays. Most of the team will head South to Lexington, while the team’s top distance runners will travel West to Walnut, California.

The Bluegrass Classic are set to feature a great throwing competition. There are four discus throwers, five shot putters, three javelin throwers and three hammer throwers ranked in the top-50 in their respective events.

Illinois discus thrower Brandon Noe had a personal best in the discus last weekend and is starting to break through this outdoor season.

“Brandon Noe is right there, ready to throw some pretty big marks. He had a PR this weekend and he didn’t really throw his best. I think he’s going to match up real well with people there,” said head coach Mike Turk.

Noe’s throw Saturday put him at No. 45 in the country. He has also qualified for Regionals the past two years in discus. Even though he PR’d on Saturday, Noe said that he had been throwing further in practice.

“Things have just been slowly getting better,” Noe said. “You open up decent and then you kind of keep progressively getting better throughout the season as the weather gets better, as you get outdoors more.”

Noe hopes to be an All-American discus thrower and he’ll go up against one of the nation’s best this weekend in Kentucky’s Andrew Evans, an All-American discus thrower currently ranked No. 4 in the country. Noe said that competing to the best of his ability can drive him to bigger throws.

“As long as I can execute my technique and just kind of follow that adrenaline whenever I have a big completion or a big guy that I’m throwing against, there’s no reason I can’t have big throws,” Noe said.

Other Illini throwers are also progressing. Turk said the javelin throwers are coming back from a slump after a hot start to the season. Hammer thrower Davis Fraker returned to the four-turn throw technique last weekend and is continuing to progress in the hammer throw after an appearance at Indoor Nationals in the weight throw.

With one of the Illini’s biggest meets of the season coming up next weekend at the Drake Relays, Turk said that the team will be careful to not overload athletes with too many events and hold some athletes out of some races.

One of the results of that is a new 4×400 meter relay line-up. The team of Zeebo Zebe, Cam Viney, Kenneth Allen, and Dave Kendziera will race on Saturday. Stephon Pamilton and DJ Zahn, who have already locked up spots in the relay, will run other events Saturday. Zebe and Kendziera are new members in an already crowded competition with Allen, Viney, and Joe McAsey looking to fill the relay’s last two spots.

Other strong events include the 110-meter hurdles and the 800 meters, where the Illini mid-distance squad will face off with two of the nation’s best in No. 7 David Mokone of Western Kentucky and No. 9 Keffri Neal of Kentucky. Vanier Joseph will line up for his first race after running the nation’s fastest time in the event this season and face-off against two top-20 hurdlers who will be gunning for him at Big Tens in May: Purdue’s Brandon Winters and Michigan’s Herman Washington.

Only six runners will compete at Mt. SAC for the Illini: Jordan Herbert, Jannis Toepfer and Ian Barnett will run the 5,000 or 10,000 meters, Liam Markham will run the 1,500 meters and Joe McAsey will run the 800.

Barnett, who took third in the 5000 at Mt. SAC last year, blew away the field in the 3000 meters on Saturday. 

“There’s hundreds of athletes here who are the best of the best and obviously the weather’s perfect in California,” Barnett said. “It’s a great place to run fast and be successful.”

The Illini’s best distance runners, as well as some of the nation’s best are going to Mt. SAC in order to hit NCAA qualifying marks. Turk said that the trend in Division I track is that runners need to get into fast races to hit times to be able to qualify for Regionals. The top 48 athletes in each event are invited to their respective Regional meet, either East or West. The Illini are in the West region.

“Most of the qualifiers are coming in from one of the Stanford meets and then Mt. SAC,” said Turk. “If you don’t go out there you run into whatever kind of weather you run into.”

Barnett qualified for Regionals last year in the 5000. Now he has bigger plans.

“I’m hoping to PR, which would be under 13:58, anything under 13:55 would be a great day for me,” Barnett said. “I’m looking to do a little more than just qualify.”

Chris can be reached at [email protected]