Seven Illini bound for NCAA outdoor championships

Seven Illini bound for NCAA outdoor championships

Counting hurdling standout David Kendziera, the Illini will have seven athletes at the premier outdoor track and field event that starts today at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. Staff writer SCOTT RICHEY caught up with them:

Jason Shannon, Devin Quinn, Cole Henderson,

Mo Maat and Joe Haight | 400 relay

The Illini qualified for the NCAA championships with the 18th-fastest time and will run in perhaps the fastest heat alongside top-seeded Florida and Ohio State (only two teams with sub-39 second-seed times).

What do you think of your relay's chances at nationals?

From a talent standpoint, we haven't ran as fast as we can run. I feel like that's always a positive and always brings excitement to the next race we do run because we haven't put it together all season. We get another chance to put it together at the biggest stage where it matters. That's what I'm really excited about for this group. — Mo Maat

What's your most bizarre track-related story?

Back in high school we were at state and I ran out of toilet paper in the port-a-potty. There was an old T-shirt (my teammate) had in his backpack. You can kind of put that story together.— Jason Shannon

What's one event you could try that would not turn out in your favor?

Probably shot put. In grade school we had the softball throw, and I did that, but I never did the shot put. I was pretty decent in the softball throw. The shot, I don't even know how much it weighs.— Joe Haight

How did you end up at Illinois?

Champaign specifically is a lot like Florida. It's really flat. I came from kind of a smaller retirement town. Champaign is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, so I like that. It's very quiet out here, and it's a lot harder to get in trouble if you're not in a big city. The education, I couldn't pass it up. I could go to some smaller Florida school, or I could go to a Big Ten school. I was like, 'I think I'm going to take my chances with the snow this time.'— Devin Quinn

If you could add one extra feature to the new track stadium, what would it be?

More seating around field events. Like the long jump, there's just a hill to sit on. There's not much bleacher seating. The same with the throwing events.— Cole Henderson

Devin Quinn | 100, 200, 400 relay

The Punta Gorda, Fla., native is competing in his first NCAA finals and is the first Illini to compete in three events since D.J. Zahn did so in 2015. He's the first Illini to qualify in the 100 since Andrew Riley, the eventual 2012 national champion.

If you could add one extra feature to the new track stadium, what would it be?

Probably more coverage — like awning coverage. Some more shade. It's a little hot out here. Maybe avoid some rain potentially. If we could get the stand coverage to start to hit toward the track and we could run out here while it was still raining, that would be pretty epic.

What's one event you could try that would not turn out in your favor?

I'm trying to avoid cross country. I ran cross country in high school for a season. That was fun, but I probably wouldn't be good at it. A specialty event I think I wouldn't be good at would probably be javelin.

What's your most bizarre track-related story?

The night before the (2017 Iowa State Cyclone Classic) I was like, 'I really don't care this point what I eat. Let's go out for Taco Bell.' I ended up running a PR — a massive PR and personal best for indoor track ever. I've had a few other incidents where I ate junk food or a nice, juicy burger the night before and live life. Staying relaxed is probably more important than food choice.

Jonathan Wells | High jump, long jump

Wells won the Big Ten high jump title with a new Illinois record of 7 feet, 5 inches — a mark that ties him for third nationally this season and only an inch behind national leader Tejaswin Shankar of Kansas State. Wells is also the first Illini to qualify in the long jump since Nick Brown in 2007.

If you could add one extra feature to the new track stadium, what would it be?

I would love a bigger high jump space. When I high jump, I like there to be space. Our field back there, we've had times we've been on the railing or some complication. We made it work. I'm really satisfied with what we have here. I'm not much of a perks guy. I don't need the amenities or the intangibles. I just need a good track — a place to practice and get this work in.

You've done a lot of events as a heptathlete/decathlete. Is there one that didn't turn out well?

If you were to look at the history of it, I think one of my more difficult events to get down was the 1,000. That endurance and me not really ever focusing on distance out here on the track and having to transform my lungs and my body to get that distance work in was a difficult process. But we made it happen.

What's your most bizarre track-related story?

Man, I'm boring. When I'm at meets, I'm honed in and focused and missing everything.

Crazy stories with me, I'm getting scars on the track. One weekend we're trying to hone in some stuff and focus on some stuff, and I'm getting scars on my body. The next weekend we're able to come to Big Tens and jump 7-5. Other crazy stories, it's always something simple. People falling in the hurdles, and that's like, 'Man, that probably hurts.' Or somebody doing the high jump and just taking off right into the standard. That probably hurts, too.

David Kendziera | 110 hurdles, 400 hurdles

A qualifier in both hurdles events for the second season in a row, Kendziera enters the NCAA championships fresh off being named 2018 Midwest Track Athlete of the Year on Friday. The redshirt senior is a seven-time All-American and finished third in the 110 hurdles and seventh in the 400 hurdles last season.

If you could add one extra feature to the new track stadium, what would it be?

I don’t know if I’d add anything. I’d say give me a couple years so I could run on it, to be honest.

What’s one event you could try that would not turn out in your favor?

I’d probably say pole vault. I don’t know if I could do that. Launching myself up there, I’m not very comfortable with that.

What’s your most bizarre track-related story?

My redshirt year I went to a meet — my friend and I drove out there to compete unattached. I checked in and did everything I was supposed to do to be ready for the race. As I was warming up, it was about 10 minutes before we ran, and I guess (the race coordinator) called everyone up to make sure everyone was there and to make sure and fill in any lanes not being ran in. I didn’t show up to that meeting, so he ended up giving my lane to someone else. I walk to my lane, and this other kid walks into my lane. We both kind of look at each other, and I was like, ‘Are you supposed to be here?’ (The race coordinator) had scratched out my name and put the other guy’s name in. I had to run in the slow section, and my coach was absolutely (ticked) off at me about it. That was the most bizarre. I did not expect them to throw me out. I ran like a 51-something and the next time was like a 58. We were both kind of upset about it because I didn’t get an opportunity to run against some of the other talent in the first section.