Howell wins Big Ten title, Illinois Track & Field concludes Big Ten Outdoor Championships

Junior+runner+Olivia+Howell+speeds+towards+the+finish+line+as+she+takes+the+lead+for+her+event+at+the+Illini+Invite+on+April+23.+Howell+won+her+fourth+consecutive+Big+Ten+championship+with+a+4%3A21+time+in+the+1500m+on+Saturday.+

Sydney Laput

Junior runner Olivia Howell speeds towards the finish line as she takes the lead for her event at the Illini Invite on April 23. Howell won her fourth consecutive Big Ten championship with a 4:21 time in the 1500m on Saturday.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

It was an action-packed weekend in Minneapolis, Minn., which was capped off by ninth and 12th place performances for the Illinois women’s and men’s track & field teams.

Day one at the University of Minnesota Track & Field Stadium saw the first Illini score points in the competition, and four others advanced to the finals in their events.

Freshman Tori Thomas stepped up big time in her first outdoor conference meet, finishing with a personal best pole vault of 4.23m. The vault was the second-best in program history and placed Thomas third in the event, earning six points for the team.

The decathlon and heptathlon finished half of their events as junior Aiden Ouimet found himself in seventh place after day one, and freshman Kenli Nettles finished fifth.

Freshman DeVontae Ford advanced to the 400m hurdles, and freshman Halle Hill, junior Olivia Howell and grad student Jon Davis all advanced to the 1500m hurdles as well.

Day two in Minneapolis ended with three more scoring athletes for the Illini and two more advancing to the finals.

The first events were decathlon and heptathlon, where Ouimet kept his seventh-place spot through the second half of competition and earned two points for the Illini.

Nettles became the second freshman to rise to the postseason challenge as she recorded personal bests in the 100m shot put, 800m and high jump. 

The impressive performance moved her up a spot for a fourth-place finish with 5,216 points, good for sixth-best in Illini history, earning five more points.

Senior Emma Milburn was the final podium finisher on day two for the Illini as the distance runner competed in the 3000m steeplechase.

Milburn finished in seventh place with a time of 10:26 and added two more points to the Illini total.

Junior Jessica McDowell and senior Bret Dannis rounded out the day, advancing to the 400m and 110m hurdles finals, respectively.

The final day brought more podium finishes for the Illini, starting with another dazzling performance for Howell. The junior won her fourth consecutive Big Ten championship with a 4:21 time in the 1500m and earned 10 points.

Freshman Halle Hill also placed on the podium in the women’s 1500m, finishing in fifth place and tallying four points. 

Fellow 1500m runner Davis finished a competitive race narrowly behind first with a speedy time of 3:52.

Davis’ finish added eight more points for the Illini men, who were behind in the standings and desperately needed his podium finish.

On Sunday, the women’s and men’s relay teams combined for three podium finishes as both 4x400m teams scored.

Freshman Logan Neely, juniors McDowell, Howell and Stoughton placed fifth for the women, and freshman DeVontae Ford, juniors Kashief King, Robert Williams and Jason Thormo placed eighth. 

Ford scored individually as well, putting up one point after an eighth-place finish in the 400m hurdles.

The men’s 4x100m placed seventh for more points with the squad of freshman Dacorey Ware, King and seniors Bret Dannis and Declan Rustay. 

McDowell became the next Illini to make the podium as she got a fourth-place finish in the 400m finals, tacking on five points.

Men’s high jump rounded out the day for Illini podium finishes as freshman CJ Shoaf, and junior Alex Babbington placed eighth and sixth with their jumps.

The Illini women also improved on their indoor performance and finished ninth, the best finish in the conference since 2013.

The men dropped two spots to twelfth after a down weekend. The Illini also only had two All-Big Ten selections from this meet, another regression from the indoor meet.

Howell adds yet another first-team selection to her resume and is joined by Davis, who made the second team as the two Illini who have shined the brightest all year.

“I had the main goal of becoming a four-time Big Ten champ, but I also wanted to score the most points for the team, so it was good,” Davis said.

With four conference titles before her senior year, Howell has established herself as a dominant force in the Big Ten and her future is still bright.

“I can still work on the little things: sleep, hydration. I am more motivated than ever and very appreciative of every opportunity that I get,” Howell said.

The event title wasn’t the only highlight of her weekend, though, as she was supportive of the team’s efforts as well.

“The energy was up this weekend. I know that the team is proud of what we accomplished, and it’s really motivating for future seasons.”

The women saw improvement in the indoor championship, and Howell can lead the way again next year as the team wants to continue climbing the Big Ten ladder.

Next up for the Illini: All qualifying athletes will prepare for the NCAA West Regional meet in Fayetteville, Ark., May 26–28.

 

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