Illinois athletes warm to Winterfest
No need to bring along the sleds, mittens or skis to this Winterfest.
When the University of Illinois hosts its three-day, five-sport extravaganza by that name this weekend, everything will take place in the great indoors.
Women''s basketball, wrestling, track, tennis and gymnastics all are on tap beginning tonight. Fans purchasing a ticket tonight or Saturday will be issued a Winterfest pass good for admission to all other events but one. The exception is Sunday''s women''s basketball game against Penn State.
A look at the Winterfest lineup as well as Illini teams headed off campus:
The 25th-ranked Illini host a couple of traditional Big Ten Conference powers that have fallen on rough times this season.
Iowa visits Huff Hall at 7 tonight, while Penn State is here Sunday at noon. The defending Big Ten champion Hawkeyes, who went 27-4 last season, have lost three of their last four to fall to 9-8. Iowa and Penn State, the defending Big Ten tournament champion, are tied for fifth place at 4-4.
Illinois, 15-4, is tied for second at 7-2, a half-game behind Michigan State.
Track and field.
At least nine schools are expected to join the Illini men''s and women''s teams at the UI Armory for the Carle/Busey Invitational.
Action starts tonight at 7 with finals in the distance medley relay and 5,000 meters and preliminaries in the 200.
On Saturday, prelims in other running events start at 11 a.m., with finals beginning at noon.
Last weekend, sprinter Benita Kelley of the UI women''s team automatically qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 60 meters during the USAir Invitational at Johnson City, Tenn. Kelley''s time of 7.36 seconds was the third-fastest in UI history. Kelley and four teammates also provisionally qualified in five other events.
The Illini men are coming off a second-place finish in the Wisconsin Invitational at Madison, where they won six events. So far, four Illini men have provisionally qualified for the NCAAs in five events.
The fifth-ranked Illini face their toughest dual meet test to date when they take on No. 6 Michigan State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Huff Hall.
Illinois enters its home finale with a 9-0 record, including 4-0 in the Big Ten. The Spartans, ranked third in the preseason, defeated the Illini 26-11 last season in East Lansing, Mich.
"This is a very important match for us," UI coach Mark Johnson said.
Three Illini have cracked the 20-victory mark: Lindsey Durlacher at 118 pounds is 24-4, 150-pounder Eric Siebert is 22-4 and 177-pounder Jevon Herman is 20-6.
Ernest Benion, a two-time All-American and 1995 NCAA champion at 158, is 19-1.
The UI''s men''s and women''s teams will make their home debuts, each facing Illinois-Chicago at Huff Hall. The men''s dual is at 1 p.m. Saturday, the women''s at 7 p.m. Sunday.
The Illini men, 1-1, may again be without senior Greg McGlaun, who suffered a concussion on Saturday during warm-ups for a dual at Michigan State. In the loss to the Spartans, Illinois swept the all-around and floor exercise. The Illini bounced back the next day with a victory at Michigan, winning 6 of 7 individual events.
The UI women have won a quadrangular meet at Northern Illinois and lost a dual at Michigan State. In the latter meet, sophomore Kim Berres scored a 9.85 in floor exercise, the second-best score in the event in Illini history.
Coming off a strong showing in the Arizona Invitational, the UI women''s team returns to Atkins Tennis Center for a pair of dual meets on Sunday. Illinois will take on Marquette at 9 a.m. and Drake at 2 p.m.
Last weekend, the Illini nearly upset fifth-ranked Arizona, falling 5-4. Illinois then defeated Texas Christian and Mississippi State. Sophomore Allison Gottlieb went 3-0 in singles to improve to 12-5.
Illinois, ranked 23rd, is in Minneapolis for the Big Ten Quad Meet today and Saturday. The Illini will be joined by No. 9 Minnesota, No. 22 Wisconsin and Purdue.
The meet will be a good test of how much Illinois has improved this season. All three opponents this weekend finished ahead of the UI last spring in the Big Ten Championships.
Meanwhile, junior Trisha Henry returned to practice Tuesday, nearly a year after leaving school upon being diagnosed with cancer. Henry will redshirt this season and could return to action next fall.
"Considering where she was a year ago, and the fact that she''s here right now is definitely a blessing from the Lord," UI coach Jim Lutz said.