Illini track and field send six athletes to NCAA’s

By Will Small

This weekends NCAA Indoor Championships will feature a little more orange and blue than recent years.

After a strong indoor season, the Illinois men’s track and field team qualified six athletes for five events, the most in the past five years. 

Fayetteville, Ark., is the host for this weekends meet, with competition beginning on Friday and continuing through late Saturday. 

Senior DJ Zahn will compete in the 400 meters and the 4X400 meter relay. Zahn is coming off a dominating Big Ten Indoor Championship, where he won all three events he entered. 

Heading into the 400, Zahn ranks fifth among competitors in the field. Semifinals will take place Friday afternoon with the finals on Saturday. Zahn currently holds the Illinois school record in the 400 and will attempt to improve on his result this weekend. 

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Zahn will also compete in the 4X400 meter relay, joined by junior Joe McAsey and sophomore’s Kenneth Allen and David Kendziera. The group may not have the fastest qualifying time of the meet, but the team is in good position to make some noise after a productive Big ten meet. The quartet’s race is the last scheduled event of the weekend, with a Saturday night start. 

Jonathan Wells, the lone freshman qualifier for the Illini, will compete in the high jump. Wells narrowly qualified for the meet after grabbing the 16th and last spot. Even though Wells might not medal this weekend, the experience he will gain should be invaluable for his future development. The high jump finals begins Saturday afternoon. 

Davis Fraker, a senior weight thrower, is the most experienced of the Illini competing this weekend. This will be the third NCAA meet of his career, and his second in a row. Fraker holds the eighth-best throw of NCAA competitors heading into the meet. The event will take place Friday night. 

In addition to DJ Zahn winning three gold medals at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, the awards keep piling in for the Illini senior. Zahn was named the USTFCCCA Midwest region track athlete of the year last Friday. 

But it wasn’t just an Illinois athlete in the spotlight. 

Assistant coach Adrian Wheatley was given the USTFCCCA Midwest region assistant coach of the year, after coaching Zahn throughout the season.  

Head coach Mike Turk was as proud as anyone when the awards were announced. 

“It’s quite an honor for both DJ and Coach Wheatley to be recognized for their outstanding contributions,” Turk said. “These are honors that will be shared and celebrated by the entire program.”

After former Illini runner and current Olympian Andrew Riley experienced tremendous success at the national meet from 2009 to 2012, this year’s crop of Illini will look to put Illinois track and field back on the map.

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