Sophmore Matt Bane will look to repeat as the Big Ten pole vault champion after taking the crown last season.
Jan. 17, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois men's track and field team will be guided by first-year head coach Mike Turk. Turk was named head coach of the Fighting Illini this past June and has spent six years on the Illinois coaching staff, acting as interim head coach for the past two seasons. Last season the Illini posted 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. Coach Turk has the same high expectations for the team.
"My expectations are always the same," Turk said. "I just want everyone to have a vision of what they're capable of doing and what they'd like to accomplish. I expect them to compete with a passion that allows them to achieve their goals and compete at the highest level. I want the guys to put in their best effort everyday and we will see progress."
Although the Illini lost All-American sprinter Azeez Shogbuyi, Illinois returns two-time national champion Andrew Riley who is back for his senior year as well as four other All-Americans including seniors Stanley Azie, Cody Wisslead, junior Josh Zinzer and sophomore Davis Fraker. The Orange and Blue also boast a solid group of upperclassmen in the distance events and a talented group of underclassmen.
"We have our upperclassman who will lead the team again this year, however we have a really good group of young guys that will help us improve as a team," Turk said. "We will have several freshman and sophomores that will make significant contributions."
This season, the sprinters and hurdlers will be coached by first-year assistant coach Adrian Wheatley along with head women's track and field coach Tonja Buford-Bailey, a 25-time Big Ten champion. Turk knows from experience this group will be one of the leading groups to score big points throughout the season.
"Speed is an important factor," Turk said. "We will always be slanted toward having a good sprint and hurdle crew. Certainly the group of guys we have will carry a big load for us this year."
Senior, two-time national champion and seven-time Big Ten champion Andrew Riley, will again anchor the sprint and hurdle crew. The Kingston, Jamaica native, will be on a quest to defend his NCAA title in the 60m high hurdles, an event he was undefeated in during the 011 season, and recapture the NCAA crown in the 110m high hurdles outdoors.
"He's very accomplished but he keeps working harder and harder to strive for more," Turk said. "He wants to make an Olympic final. It will be a challenge to win another NCAA title but he has two more opportunities."
Riley, also leads off the 4x100m relay, which set an all-time Big Ten record of 38.72 enroute to a third place finish at nationals and won last year's Big Ten Outdoor Championships. Azie and Zinzer are also back on the relay while freshman Brandon Stryganek, who placed 10th in the 200m at last year's Junior Olympic Nationals is expected to one of the top contenders to fill a spot on the relay team.
In the Big Ten and on the national front, senior Cody Wisslead will be a major contender in the 400m hurdles. Wisslead won the Big Ten outdoor title in the 400m hurdles in a time of 50.55 and was also an NCAA finalist and scorer. Wisslead also participated at the USA Championships.
"We're going to look for Cody to add some quality points for us in the hurdles," Turk said. "After being sick and hurt the past few years, we're looking for him to come back and be healthy to compete in indoors. We will also be looking for Cody to help us out in the other events such as the 4x400 and the distance medley relay."
Freshman Gary Ford will also be expected to make contributions in the hurdles this season after he was a state champion in the 100m hurdles and second in the 300m hurdles.
"Gary is one of the outstanding members of the freshman class and brings a lot of versatility and quality performances to the table," Turk said. "He is a big part of our outstanding hurdle crew and will also be a threat to score for us in the jumps."
The middle distance crew is one that Turk would like to see really improve and be able to score points on the conference as well as the national level. The Illini return a talented sophomore in Ryan Lynn as well as a touted freshman in Joe McAsey.
"Ryan Lynn is very talented and capable of scoring on the Big Ten level," Turk said. "Ryan put up some good times last year and gained valuable racing experience that will help him get to the next level. We also have Joe McAsey, one of the top 800m runners at the high school level last year, who will really add something to that group as well."
First year assistant coach Gavin Kennedy saw his squad take significant steps in the right direction as his roster is filled with seniors. The Illini will look to carry that momentum into the track season as they are led by upperclassman Jim Riddle and Jordan Hebert, who both qualified for the NCAA Championships in cross country.
"Riddle and Hebert have really stepped up from cross country," Turk said. "Riddle is really looking good to make a more forward on the track that he hasn't done in the past."
Senior Colin Mickow will be a strong competitor for the Illini after a eighth-place showing in the 10,000m at the 2011 Big Ten Outdoor Championships and just outside the point scorers along with junior Nathan Bohne in the 3,000m at the indoor conference meet. Senior steeplechaser Kyle Engnell, who scored for the third-straight year in the event are also back in the mix, along with Chris DeSilva. The distance medley relay team comprised of Engnell, Graham Farnsworth and Ryan Lynn will look to improve on their third-place finish at the Big Ten Indoor Championships last season.
"I also look to Colin Mickow, who is always in the mix at the Big Ten's and has been a big scorer for us in the past," Turk sad. "Kyle Engnell has done tremendous things for us on the track. He was a three-time scorer in the steeplechase in the Big Ten meet. He made a huge difference for us."
Defending indoor Big Ten pole vault champion, Matt Bane, will be a significant contributor to the field events this season. Bane won the event with a personal-best height of 17-3 ¾ (5.28m) to become the first vault champion at Illinois since Justin Norberg accomplished the feat 11 years ago. Another pole vaulter coach Turk is looking forward to seeing improve is sophomore Cody Klein, who scored points for the Illini indoors and just missed the points during outdoors.
"Bane is a guy who had a great year last year and just stayed under the radar in the national level," Turk said. "It was an outstanding group of pole vaulters that he beat last year at Big Ten's. Cody Klein is poised to move up the ladder as well. They are both progressing right along and will be solid scorers for us this year."
Ryan Michel continues to improve and hopes to become the main high jumper on the Illini squad. The junior recorded a personal-best height of 6-9 (2.06m) at the Meyo invitational last season.
"Michel is poised for a breakout session after battling some injuries last year," Turk said. "He is healthy, training well and the early results are promising. He certainly has the ability to be a conference scorer for us."
After losing Oz Lifshitz, a multiple point scorer for the Illini, coach Turk's turns to two freshman to reload. Gary Ford placed fourth in the Illinois high school state championships while Brandon Tanthavong took first place in the triple jump at the Midwest All-Star meet and second at the state championship.
"Brandon was the state runner up in the triple jump last year and will be our primary performer in the triple jump this year," Turk said. "He has had a great fall of training."
Sophomore Davis Fraker returns after a stellar freshman campaign. The Peachtree City, Ga., native set a new school record in the 35-pound weight throw while earning second team All America honors. Fraker also was a Big Ten scorer in the shot put, the only freshman in the conference to do so. He will be joined by juniors Brett Einbecker, and Brett Ramirez and freshman Brandon Noe who will look to have a break out year.
"Brandon will be entering his first year of competition in his specialty of the discus throw after red shirting last year," Turk said. "He was one of the top discus throwers in the USA on the junior level last year and will contend for a scoring position in the conference this spring."
Junior Steve Monte will be the experienced multi-event leader this season as he has competed in the Big Ten championships in year's past. Monte looks to surpass the 4,604 points he collected in the 2010 Carle/Health Alliance Classic, making it his personal best mark. Senior Tim Gaumer will also provide depth to the multi-event squad.
"Steve is an experienced multi event performer and is poised to make a run at the school record in the heptathlon," Turk said. "He has worked very hard in preparation for this year and has matured a great deal. I am sure his previous experience at the Big Ten level will benefit him this year."