Sophomore Brandon Stryganek looks to add to being an All-American and Big Ten champion this season.
Jan. 9, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Illinois men's track and field team will be guided by second-year head coach Mike Turk. Last season the Illini posted a pair of top-13 finishes at the indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships and saw the Orange and Blue collect eight total All-America accolades along with four individual and one relay Big Ten title. However, the 2013 team's makeup will look slightly different than in years past, after losing four-time NCAA champion Andrew Riley and All-American Stanley Azie. Coach Turk is excited about this year's squad which returns three All-Americans, 10 Big Ten point scorers and two school record holders from 2012.
"This is an enthusiastic, confident group of guys," Turk said. "That makes them a fun group to coach. This year's team is very well balanced and we have more depth than in the past. I always enjoy watching the process of athletes developing and raising their performances to a higher level. I am sure this year's team will have some surprise performances and I am anxious to see those breakthroughs."
The young sprint and hurdles group looks to continue the success of the sprint/hurdle crews of the past few years with help from experienced underclassmen and a few key transfers.
Sophomore Brandon Stryganek will be a major contributor after having an incredible freshman year which included earning his first career All-American recognition after running the second leg of the 4x100 relay squad and winning a Big Ten title in the 4x100. The Hawthorn Woods, Ill., native also scored a combined 25 points during both indoor and outdoor Big Ten meets and earned USA Junior All-American honors after making the finals in both the 100m and 200m. Fellow sophomore D.J. Zahn was also part of the NCAA finalist 4x100 relay team and returns to make significant impact this year. Additionally, transfer Julian Smith will add depth to the short sprint crew and be in the hunt to score points at the Big Ten Championships in the 100 and 200m sprints.
"Brandon had an outstanding freshman season last year and he is a guy that has worked very hard in the off season," Turk said. "He is taking on more of a leadership role and is determined to have a big impact this year. D.J. is another returner that is ready to go to another level after gaining some great experience running in the NCAA finals last year. You can't replace that kind of exposure and experience. Julian will round out the 4x100 relay squad. Adding someone of Julian's quality gives us a great chance to get the relay back to the NCAA finals."
Coach Turk is looking forward to a couple of newcomers who will have major impact on this year's sprint and hurdle squad, including Vanier Joseph who was an NCAA qualifier in the 60m hurdles at Eastern Michigan. Also, Stephon Pamilton is another transfer that will be a major contributor, especially leading the long sprint group. In addition to Pamilton, Juan Paul Green will add depth to the long sprint group, as he was one of the nations top prep 400m runners last year, placing runner-up in the event at the Florida state championships. Freshman Cameron Viney will add balance to the squad after being a seven-time West Virginia state champion and holding five school records at Elkins High School.
Sophomore Gary Ford will return as one of the standouts in the hurdles squad after consistently improving last season. Ford qualified for the NCAA West Preliminary Round of Championships in the 110m hurdles and recorded a personal-best time which ranks in the school's all-time performances lists.
Coach Turk believes the middle distance crew is one of the most talented groups he's seen since his tenure at Illinois began. Last season the squad improved immensely, seeing athletes score on the conference level and etching their names into Illinois' top-10 list.
The Illini return a talented group of 800m runners for the 2013 campaign led by Big Ten scorers Ryan Lynn and Joe McAsey. Senior Lynn had a breakout season and moved to No. 10 on the University of Illinois all-time indoor 800m list. Sophomore McAsey scored in the conference championships in the 800m meters both indoors and outdoors. He also earned USA Junior All-American honor after finishing fourth in the event. Also contributing in the 800m will be junior Zebo Zebe and senior Malcolm Taylor.
Graham Morris, a transfer from Eastern Illinois will the lead the 1,500m group as he set the school record in the event last year. Joining him will be newcomers Luke Carroll and Liam Markham. Carroll was a three-time 1500m national champion for the Cheltenham Harriers Athletics Club while Markham was the top Irish 1,500m under-20 year old runner in 2011. Also joining the crew is senior Kyle Engnell who has one more season of eligibility indoors.
"This is the best middle distance group we have had since I have been at Illinois," Turk said. "It has been a focus of the staff over the past couple of years to rebuild this event group. I think some special things can happen this year. I think we see several guys in the hunt to score at Big Tens and advance to NCAA's individually. Our guys have set a goal of getting our distance medley relay qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships. As long as we stay healthy, we have a great chance to get them to the NCAA finals."
First year assistant coach Jake Stewart saw his squad take significant steps in the right direction during the cross country season and hopes to continue the momentum into the track season. The Illini will be led by three upperclassmen Hunter Mickow, Jannis Topfer and Jim Riddle. Mickow and Topfer both qualified for the NCAA Championships in cross country while Riddle and Mickow scored points at the Big Ten outdoor meet last season. A group of redshirt-freshmen look to have a break out year, including Ian Barnett, Tommy King, Sam Telfer and Paul Zeman.
"We have a talented group of upperclassmen led by returning Big Ten 10,000m scorers Jim and Hunter," Turk said. "In addition, Janis is coming off an outstanding cross country season and is focused on making a big contribution, especially in the steeplechase, his speciality. It will be very interesting to watch some of the young guys step up during the year and put their stamp on the program. All of these guys have very high goals."
Turk thinks the pole vault crew could have the biggest impact upon this year's team. The Illini return three who have scored in the conference championships, including 2011 Big Ten champion Matt Bane, Josh Hodur and Cody Klein. The group will also get performances from Steve Monte as well as youngsters Blaze Galardy, Mitch Mammoser and Brandon Carrel.
"The pole vault crew is a very deep and talented bunch with three guys that have scored in Big Ten competition," Turk said. "They are all healthy and have had a terrific off season. They are especially focused on making a big impact on the conference level and advancing to NCAA's."
Ryan Michel has continued to be Illini's mainstay in the high jump, looking to improve upon his results from previous years. Sophomore Branden Tanthavong will contribute in the triple jump, after gaining experience at the Big Ten Championships in his rookie season.
"Ryan has battled injuries and often gets overlooked but I think he will come through for some outstanding performances in the high jump," Turk said. "He can score valuable points for us at Big Tens as can Branden in the triple jump."
Junior Davis Fraker will lead the throws group as the Peachtree City, Ga., native qualified for the NCAA West Preliminary Round of Championships in the hammer throw and set a new school record in the event last season. He will be joined by seniors Brett Einbecker and Brett Ramirez and sophomore Brandon Noe, all who have coach Turk looking for big performances' this year. Einbecker threw a career-best shot put mark of 55-0 1/4 (16.77m) to lead the Illini at the conference meet while Ramirez set the third best hammer throw mark in school history with a mark of 194-5 (59.25m).
"Davis is back after his best off season of training ever," Turk said. "He learned a lot through both the ups and downs of the past two years. As long as he stays healthy, he will do big things. He could challenge for a national championship in the 35lb. weight throw and score in the shot put at NCAA's this year. He will also score big points in the shot put, weight throw and hammer at the conference level."
"Brandon is also training at another level this year and expects to do big things in the shot put and his specialty, the discus," Turk said. "Brett Einbecker and Brett Ramirez return for their senior seasons. Einbecker had a breakthrough outdoors last year and was our top finisher in the shot put at Big Tens while Ramirez narrowly missed making the Big Ten final in the hammer throw."
In the javelin, Steve Monte will return after scoring in the Big Ten Championships and setting the eighth-farthest throw in school history.
Monte and sophomore Corey Hammon will be the experienced multi-event leaders this season as both have competed at the Big Ten Championships in the year's past. Hammon set the 17-year old school record in the decathlon last year at the conference meet, totaling 7,150 points, recording new personal-bests in four events. Freshman George Wayda will also provide depth to the multi-event squad.
"Corey had an outstanding freshman season last year and is on another level in his preparation for 2013," Turk said. "Corey is well prepared for Big Ten competition and could make his way into the decathlon at NCAA's. Steve will also compete in the multis and they are joined by another talented freshman, George who has been a pleasant surprise in training this fall."