Illini Insider

Illini Insider

A weekly review and preview of Illini sports:

One to watch


Carle/Health Alliance Invitational

Saturday at UI Armory

For the second consecutive week – but the last time this indoor season – Illinois will compete on its home track.

Last week, Gary Winckler's 25th-ranked Illini women scored an impressive victory in a four-team meet that included No. 11 Texas and No. 14 UCLA.

This time, the field is filled with fellow Land of Lincoln schools. And this time, Wayne Angel's men will be on hand, too, for their lone indoor home appearance of 2008.

Other schools entering men's and women's teams are Eastern Illinois, DePaul, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Lincoln (Mo.). In addition, the women's meet will include Northern Illinois and Tennessee State.

Action begins at 9 a.m. with the first event of the women's pentathlon. Field events start at 9:30 a.m., and the first running event is set for 11:30 a.m.

Several former Illini women's standouts are entered, led by two-time Olympian and two-time world champion Perdita Felicien in the 60-meter hurdles. Yvonne Mensah, a 15-time Big Ten champion, will compete in the pentathlon. Carlene Robinson, the UI record-holder in the 600, again will run that race on her home track. Twin sister Camile, a four-time All-American, also is scheduled to compete.

During the meet, several former Illini track greats will be honored with banners bearing their names that will hang from the Armory walls. The group includes Big Ten pole vault champions Richard Coleman (lettered from 1950 to '52) and Robert Phelps (1943, 1944-46); NCAA 220-yard hurdles champion Joseph Corley (1952-54); Big Ten long jump champion Paul Foreman (1959-61); Big Ten sprint champion Trenton Jackson (1963-65); and the 1964 national championship 400-meter relay team of Gilwyn Williams, Mel Blanheim, Mike Yavorski and Jackson.

Illini of the Week

Allison Buckley


It's likely no other female gymnast has entered the UI with credentials more impressive than this Schaumburg native.

In 2006, as a junior at Hoffman Estates Conant, Buckley became the first gymnast in IHSA history to win all five individual titles at the state meet. Last year, the product of Hanover Park-based Gymkhana Gymnastics Club won four events at the National High School Gymnastics Association National All-Around Championships.

If there was any doubt whether Buckley would be an immediate contributor at the college level, the freshman dispelled those thoughts Saturday in her home debut. During a narrow Illini loss to No. 17 Ohio State, Buckley won the all-around, vault and floor exercise.

"Allison is a tremendous athlete," UI coach Bob Starkell said. "She's got some great characteristics of power and strength."

Buckley also finished third in balance beam and tied for fourth in uneven parallel bars in her second collegiate meet.

"She's been doing really well in practice and preparing well on a daily basis," Starkell said. "We were looking for a meet soon that she would hit all four events. She's strong on all four. She definitely does not have a weakness."

Meeting with approval

If the unofficial Big Ten-SEC Challenge in track and field continues, Angel is eager for his Illini men to remain a part of it. Although Illinois and two other Big Ten teams lost 187-156 to their SEC counterparts Saturday in Bloomington, Ind., Angel was pleased with his squad's performance. In the process, he became a fan of this fledgling event, too.

"I like the concept, and I'd like to continue it," Angel said. "I think it helped us as a team gauge where we are in terms of athletic ability and talent and depth."

Competing against an SEC trio that included No. 3 Tennessee and No. 4 Florida, Illinois won three events and placed second four times. Illini winners were Lesiba Masheto in the 400, Gary Miller in the 800 and Andrew Zollner in the pole vault.

"I thought we did pretty well with leaving five of our starters back home," Angel said.

When the Illini return to the track Saturday, the UI coach expects most or all of the five to compete. They include distance runners Trent Hoerr and Jacob Nachel, jumper Nick Brown and two January enrollees: former Tennessee prep 400-meter state champ Brandon Gray and Yawusa Kinda, a five-time junior college national champion in the 400. Gray is a sophomore, Kinda a junior.

No. 1 headed to Atkins

The best men's team in collegiate tennis will be in town Friday. Good thing for Brad Dancer, his Illini aren't so bad themselves.

No. 8 Illinois (1-0) will host No. 1 Virginia (1-0) at 6 p.m. at Atkins Tennis Center. The Cavaliers' lineup includes top-ranked and defending NCAA singles champion Somdev Devvarman. And No. 3 Dominic Inglot. And No. 12 Treat Huey. And the No. 1 doubles tandem of Devvarman and Huey.

"They are by far the strongest team we've played against maybe in the last few years," said Dancer, whose Illini reached the NCAA championship match last year. "It's going to be a big, big test for us."

How big? Dancer isn't sure whether Devvarman, for all that he's accomplished, is necessarily the top gun this year in Virginia's lineup.

"They have the defending NCAA champion, and they have guys maybe better than him," the UI coach said. "They have guys who are very good who were playing (Nos.) 3 and 4 who are now playing 6 and 7."

So impressive is Virginia's collection of talent that it reminds Dancer of the undefeated Georgia team Illinois met for the NCAA title last year.

"They're the type of team that could duplicate Georgia and go all the way," he said.

As daunting as the task might seem, Dancer is eager to see his Illini take their best shot at Virginia. And his players better feel the same way.

"We've got a big challenge in front of us, but if you're the kind of player who's not looking forward to it, you probably don't belong at Illinois," Dancer said. "Our guys will be fired up and ready to play."

In case you need any further incentive to check this one out, there's this added attraction: Between doubles and singles, Juice Williams and Martez Wilson of the Illini's Rose Bowl football team will participate in an exhibition doubles match.

On the Marc

Last season, Marc Spicijaric tied current pro Kevin Anderson for the Illini men's tennis lead in singles victories. This season, the junior has plenty of catching up to do after sitting out the entire fall schedule with a groin injury that required surgery.

Spicijaric returned to action in Illinois' 2008 opener at the Arizona Spring Invitational. He returned to the UI 0-2 in singles and 0-1 in doubles.

"To be honest, he looked pretty pathetic," Dancer said. "To his credit, he fights as hard as he can."

Given Spicijaric's extended layoff, the Illini coach wasn't necessarily surprised by the Florida native's slow start. Neither was he surprised when Spicijaric bounced back in the Illini's dual-meet opener last week against Ball State.

After combining with freshman Waylon Chin to win in doubles, Spicijaric swept his singles opponent 6-2, 6-4.

In the process, according to Dancer, he showed major improvement on his return of serve.

"I really feel Marc is going to improve tremendously," Dancer said. "He's going to be a guy who, for us, is a very key person."

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