After Drake Relay win, Illini head to Iowa

By Christopher Kennedy

After being crowned Hy-Vee Cup co-champions last weekend at the Drake Relays, the Illinois men’s track and field team soared to No. 14 in the national rankings, the highest position the team has ever held mid-season. Now the Illini enter the final week of the regular season and head to Iowa City for the University of Iowa’s Musco Twilight Meet.

Except for two athletes, the whole team will travel to Iowa. Liam Markham and Ian Barnett will head to Stanford’s Payton Jordan Invite to try to hit some fast marks in the 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters, respectively.

The Musco Twilight Meet is Illinois’ last meet before Big Tens and championship season. Only one Big Ten team, No. 11 Nebraska, is ranked higher than the Illini. They will face off against the Cornhuskers in Iowa; however, that is not the team’s main concern this weekend. 

“No. 1 we’ve got to come out of this weekend healthy,” head coach Mike Turk said. Turk mentioned the approach to this weekend’s meet will be different than usual because of the effort the team put in at Drake.

In addition to Nebraska and Iowa, Illinois will be facing off with Minnesota, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and last weekend’s host Drake.

“It’s kind of a tough position for us because it is a scored meet. And usually we can really crank up for these scored meets. … I don’t feel like we can really do that coming off of Drake because a couple of our horses ran so many races.”

With Turk not trying to overload athletes, most athletes won’t double and many will run in events that aren’t their main focus. Big Ten Athlete of the Week Vanier Joseph will run on the 4×100 meter relay and sprinter DJ Zahn, who usually runs on both the 4×100 and 4×400 meter relays, will only run the open 100 meters.

“I do love the relays, but it’s kind of nice to be able to do an open event and at least show that I’m progressing,” Zahn said. “Hopefully I can drop my time a little bit so I can see something kind of happening as we get closer to conference.”

Another Illini running a different event is sophomore hurdler Cam Viney. After a breakout performance at the Drake Relays, Viney has moved up to No. 4 in the country in the 400-meter hurdles and is the nation’s top-ranked sophomore. Turk said Viney is already a “star” in the 400 hurdles and still has room for improvement. Nebraska has multiple hurdlers ranked in the 400-meter hurdles that Viney saw last weekend at Drake. Instead, freshman David Kendziera will go against a deep Nebraska squad in the event this weekend.

Turk said that Viney needs to get some work in the open 400, partially because he is one of five athletes who could be a part of the 4×400 meter relay line-up for the championship season. Along with Zahn, Joe McAsey, Kenneth Allen and Stephon Pamilton are potential members of a squad that the Illini can shift around as needed.

The relay line-ups will be shaken and other athletes will get a chance to show what they can do in the 4×400 this weekend, as the team aims to not overload its athletes. 

“It’s going to create some opportunities for some other guys; we’re going to run some alternates on our relays this weekend. Those guys will get a chance to step up and get in there,” said Turk.

With only a week to go until Big Tens, Zahn said the Illini are poised for success.

“We kind of just got everybody in the right mindset to do everything we need to,” Zahn said. “All around we have a lot of good athletes, beside the rankings.”

Chris can be reached at [email protected]