Illini men’s track and field set to host Orange and Blue Open

Daily+Illini+Joe+McAsey+%28600%29+crosses+the+finish+line+in+the+1+Mile+Event+during+the+Orange+and+Blue+Open+at+the+Armory+on+Saturday+Feb.+4%2C+2012.

Daily Illini Joe McAsey (600) crosses the finish line in the 1 Mile Event during the Orange and Blue Open at the Armory on Saturday Feb. 4, 2012.

By Will Small

In a season full of travel, sometimes it’s nice to come home.

After competing in four-straight road meets, the Illinois men’s track and field team returns to Champaign to host the Orange and Blue Open on Saturday. Field events begin at 10 a.m., and running events kick off at noon. But the Illini won’t have their usual lineup this weekend. The Big Ten Indoor Championships is next weekend, and head coach Mike Turk feels it is necessary for most of his team to have an off weekend.

“Because of all the travel that we have done, we won’t have everyone competing this weekend,” Turk said. “The guys that are competing are certainly excited to be home, and even the guys that are not competing are excited that we’re hosting a meet,”

Adding to the excitement of Illinois’ first home meet in more than a month is the team’s debut in the USTFCCCA national rankings. The Illini come in at No. 23, joined in the polls by fellow Big Ten teams No. 8 Penn State, No. 15 Wisconsin and No. 18 Nebraska.

Freshman Jonathan Wells will be competing at the Orange and Blue Open this weekend in the high jump. Despite Wells’ poor performance in the Iowa State Classic last weekend, Turk said he believes Wells still has great jumps left in him.

Many younger Illini will compete in the meet, highlighted by freshman Luke Schroer and junior Ian Barnett, who will run the mile.

The Illini will also be sending a small group of runners to the Notre Dame Alex Wilson Invitational on Saturday, a big competition for runners who want to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships in mid-March.

Junior Joe McAsey was named the Big Ten’s Track Athlete of the Week on Monday following his performance at the Iowa State Classic this past weekend. McAsey finished fifth in the 800 meters with a time of 1 minute, 47.38 seconds, giving him the top time in the Big Ten and the seventh-best in the nation.

McAsey is also a part of Illinois’ 4×400 relay team that placed second this past weekend. The other members of the relay team are senior DJ Zahn and sophomores David Kendziera and Kenneth Allen.

McAsey has been excelling so far this season — at Notre Dame he will compete in the distance medley relay along with junior Liam Markham, Zahn and senior Bryce Basting, where the group will try to qualify for the NCAA meet.

“We’re taking the distance medley relay to Notre Dame to try to get a qualifying time for the NCAA’s,” Turk said. “Ninety percent of the qualifying times in that event will come at Notre Dame this weekend.”

It may seem like a hectic weekend for Illinois, but Turk believes it’s a good tune-up week for his team heading into Big Tens.

Will can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @will_small_.