Stryganek and 4x400m Relay headed to Nationals
May 31, 2014
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The Fighting Illini men's track and field team qualified for the NCAA Championships in two events on the final day of the NCAA West Preliminary Round. The 4x400m Relay of DJ Zahn, Joe McAsey, Kenneth Allen and Stephon Pamilton and sprinter Brandon Stryganek (200m) will compete at the national meet in Eugene, Oregon on June 11-14.
Stryganek advanced to the 200m quarterfinal after finishing second in his heat with a time of 20.92 yesterday, his second-fastest time of the season. Stryganek one-upped himself today, finishing with a time of 20.66, a new personal best. He now holds the second slot on the Illinois men's all-time top-10 list just behind Anthony Jones' 1994 time of 20.62.
"We needed a shot in the arm and Brandon provided it," said head coach Mike Turk. "It was a big PR for Brandon to automatically qualify from his heat to go to Eugene. We always believed Brandon's best race was the 200. During the outdoor season he started to figure out how to run the race more efficiently. I'm glad we didn't run him in the 100 in favor of the 200. It all worked out well."
Saturday was a day full of rollercoaster emotions as some of the Illini had their last moments on the track. Senior Vanier Joseph's incredible Illinois career came to an end after a fall in the 110 hurdles prevented him from finishing the race. Joseph finished his career at Illinois as a two-time Big Ten champion and a two-time NCAA indoor championships qualifier.
"I couldn't feel worse for an individual athlete," said Turk. "Vanier has been so great all year. His start was solid, he looked clean over the first couple hurdles, and then he just went down. Sometimes [it] doesn't seem fair, but it doesn't change how I feel for Vanier, who he is as a person and what he has done for our program."
In the field events, junior Brandon Noe finished his season at the discus with a throw of 170-3 (51.89m), while fellow junior Branden Tanthavong set a new personal best for the triple jump with 50-11 (15.52m) to end his season. Sophomore Ian Barnett competed in the 5,000m despite battling an illness but was unable to finish the race. There were high hopes for the 4x100m relay team of Pamilton, Zahn, Stryganek and Julian Smith but the team missed their last exchange and didn't complete the race.
"Branden put together his best performance ever and made a strong push at qualifying," said Turk. "He should be proud of a personal best and making the final. He can build on this for next year. Ian hasn't been feeling well this week. His health was bad enough on Friday that we considered a medical scratch, but he wanted to give it a go. He ran gutsy but his body just wasn't capable of doing what his mind wanted. The 4x100m relay was very disappointing and a big blow for us. We've been consistent all year and just completely missed the last exchange."
The Illini capped the night with the 4x400m relay of Zahn, McAsey, Allen and Pamilton nabbing their spot to nationals with a time of 3:05.14.
"It was a solid team effort," Turk said of the relay team. "They ran exactly the kind of race we needed to advance. Each guy ran smart and did their job. No one tried to be a hero or do too much. The mission was to advance and they got it done."
Three Illini qualified for the NCAA Championships in their respective events yesterday: Zahn (400m), McAsey (800m) and Cam Viney (400m hurdles).
"Overall it was a bittersweet day but we certainly ended on a high note," Turk said. "We've got another week to sharpen up and we will be ready for a good showing at the finals."
A full list of Illinois results can be found below.
Illinois Saturday Results at NCAA West Preliminary Round