7th Place Big Ten Indoor Championships | T-22nd Place NCAA Indoor Championships
7th Place Big Ten Outdoor Championship | T-12th Place NCAA Outdoor Championships
An indoor national title by junior Andrew Riley and the highest NCAA outdoor finish by an Illini squad since 1988 highlighted the 2011 season for Illinois men's track and field. In his second year as interim head coach, Mike Turk led the Illini to a pair of top-25 finishes at the indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships and saw the Orange and Blue collect 10 total All-America accolades along with five individual Big Ten titles.
Illinois enjoyed four straight home meets at the UI Armory to begin the indoor season in January. Freshman Davis Fraker started the year off with a bang, breaking the weight throw school record with his very first collegiate throw during the season-opening dual against Iowa. The following week the Illini picked up 12 individual event titles at the Illini Open.
The Orange and Blue easily captured the Illini Classic team title, as Fraker reset his own school record in the weight throw with a mark of 68-2 ¼ (20.78m) and the squad won nine individual event titles. On the last weekend of January, the Illini earned state bragging rights, winning 10 event titles and taking the top spot among seven different in-state schools at the Illinois Intercollegiate.
At the Meyo Invitational, Fraker garnered his fourth weight throw title of the season and nine other Illini turned in runner-up finishes. During the Tyson Invitational, Riley hit the auto time in the 60m hurdles and the pole vault crew excelled in the squad's final regular season meet.
On the last weekend of February, Illinois hosted the Big Ten Indoor Championships at the UI Armory for the first time since 2003. Freshman Matthew Bane became Illinois' first Big Ten pole vault champion since 2000 on day one while Riley completed a three-peat by winning the 60m hurdles title, as the squad placed seventh overall in a loaded field featuring six teams ranked in the USTFCCCA national poll. Fraker took third in the weight throw and the distance medley relay of junior Graham Farnsworth, senior Dan Jones, sophomore Ryan Lynn and junior Kyle Engnell also reached the awards podium in third place.
At the NCAA Indoor Championships, Riley won his second career national title, as he raced to victory in the 60m hurdles with a personal-best time of 7.58. His mark ranked as the fastest time in the NCAA for the season and broke his own school record and the facility record at Texas A&M's Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium. Riley completed an undefeated season in the event with the win and scored 10 team points for the Illini, who tied for 22nd at nationals, the highest indoor finish by an Illinois squad since 1998 (17th). Fraker, who was the first Illini ever to qualify for nationals in the weight throw, placed 10th overall and earned second-team All-American honors under the new USTFCCCA system.
Two weeks after the indoor season concluded, the Illini opened the outdoor campaign by helping the Big Ten capture conference pride by topping the SEC in the inaugural SEC/Big Ten Challenge. Illinois then placed fourth at the LSU Invitational and won three individual distance titles in Baton Rouge, La., before heading to Columbia, Mo., the next weekend and taking second at the Tom Botts Invitational thanks in part to event titles in the long jump and 400m hurdles. The Illini then sent athletes to a pair of meets, as Engnell clocked the sixth-fastest steeplechase time in UI history at the Mt. SAC Relays while Riley was named Athlete of the Meet at the Sea Ray Relays after winning the 110m hurdles, anchoring the victorious 4x200m relay and leading off the runner-up 4x100m relay. The following weekend the Illini saw Riley win the 100m dash and senior Jeremy Stevens take home the steeplechase title at Iowa's Musco Twilight.
On the final day of the 102nd Drake Relays, the Fighting Illini broke an 18-year old school record and added a pair of champions to the program's record-setting list. The 4x100m relay of Riley, senior Azeez Shogbuyi, sophomore Josh Zinzer and junior Stanley Azie clocked the then-fastest mark in school history with a time of 39.17 to place first in the event for the first time since 1953 while Engnell won the 3,000m steeplechase. Illinois owns 137 total titles at the Drake Relays, the most by any school.
At the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, hosted by Iowa, three Big Ten titles highlighted the final day of competition, as the squad placed seventh overall with 62 points. Riley led off the 4x100m relay of Shogbuyi, Zinzer and Azie to its first Big Ten title since 1997 before winning his second-straight crown in the 110m hurdles. Senior Cody Wisslead won his first career conference title with a victory in the 400m hurdles, and Azie ran the second-fastest times in school history during his runner-up finishes in the 100m and 200m.
Following the conference meet, the Illini qualified 11 athletes in 10 events to the NCAA West Preliminary Round of Championship in Eugene, Ore. Five athletes in four events clinched a berth to nationals over the three days of competition at Hayward Field. Riley broke his own school record with a time of 13.32 in the 110m hurdles and led off the 4x100m relay to a second-straight national appearance. Wisslead (400m hurdles) and Azie (100m, 200m) also advanced in individual events.
At the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Illinois racked up 18 points and tied for 12th, marking the highest finish by an Illini squad in 23 years since placing seventh in 1988. Riley just missed a repeat national title in the 110m hurdles, placing second in 13.33 behind LSU's Barrett Nugent (13.28). The 4x100m relay, which competed in the NCAA final for the first time since 1964 when the Illini won the national title in its first year as an NCAA event, earned first-team All-America honors with a third-place finish following a time of 38.96. During the semifinal, the relay timed 38.72 to break a 19-year-old Big Ten record and eclipse their own school record from earlier in the year.
Azie (100m) and Wisslead (400m hurdles) both garnered their first career first-team All-America honors after competing in the finals of their respective events at the NCAA Championships on a rainy Friday. Azie placed sixth in the 100m dash while Wisslead took eighth in the 400m hurdles. In total, the Orange and Blue notched eight All-America distinctions, including seven first-team nods, which was the most since notching eight in 1988.
For his stellar season, Riley was honored as the University of Illinois Male Dike Eddleman Athlete of the Year, making him the 14th men's track athlete to earn the laurel and first since Anthony Jones in 2004. The Kingston, Jamaica, native, who was coached by sprints/hurdles coach Tonja Buford-Bailey, also won the 110m hurdles Jamaican national title and qualified to compete for Team Jamaica at the World Championships.
Following the season, Turk was named head coach of the program after spending two seasons as the interim head coach.