Staff writer Jeff Huth offers three storylines on the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, which begin Friday at Albuquerque, N.M.
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Vanier Joseph knows the drill. This will be the senior hurdler’s second consecutive trip to indoor nationals as an Illini and third of his career. In 2011, Joseph earned second-team All-America honors in the 60-meter hurdles as a sophomore at Eastern Michigan. Last year, he failed to advance out of preliminaries in the event. Now Joseph is back again, seeded last in a 16-hurdler field but coming off a season-best time (7.76 seconds) while placing third at the Big Ten indoor meet. Considering that three of the top five hurdles seeds at this nationals are from the Big Ten, Joseph’s most recent performance was no small feat.
Throwing weight around
Illini junior Davis Fraker finished sixth at the Big Ten indoor meet, but some context is required. Of the 16 qualifiers in the NCAA weight throw field this weekend, six are from the Big Ten. And here’s the kicker: The top four seeds all are from Jim Delany’s favorite conference. Can you say loaded? “The weight throw in the Big Ten might be the single-best event in the entire country,” Illini coach Mike Turk said. Davis is seeded 15th, but the Peachtree City, Ga., native is coming off a career performance at the Big Ten meet. Davis’ heave of 68 feet, 101/2 inches broke his own school record of 68-21/4 set in 2011, when he was a second-team indoor All-American.
For Illini fans, this weekend is a painful reminder of the ones that got away. When then-UI women’s head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey left last June to become associate head coach at Texas, two extraordinary talents followed her to Austin. No surprise, each will be in Albuquerque. Junior Ashley Spencer, a two-time NCAA champ in the outdoor 400 meters, will look to add to her national title collection as the No. 1 seed in the indoor 400. Sophomore Morolake Akinosun, a two-time outdoor All-American in 2013, is the sixth seed in the 60 and the 16th seed in the 200. The Longhorns also are the favorites in the 1,600 relay, with Spencer as the anchor.