Wieneke: Frosh should do share

Wieneke: Frosh should do share

   CHAMPAIGN  From all-stater to All-American. Bobby True and Cortney Lamb each made that considerable leap last season.

   They also set an ambitious example, says University of Illinois men''s track and field coach Gary Wieneke, for his next wave of freshmen.

   "We''ll expect our newcomers to step up much in the fashion that Cortney and Bobby did last year," Wieneke said this week. "I don''t know that we have to rely on them, but we''re counting on them to do their share."

   Those freshmen will be on display for the first time as collegians Saturday when the Illini open their indoor season with a dual meet against Indiana State at the UI Armory. It''s an eight-member group that accumulated 10 individual state titles among them during their prep careers:

    There''s Babatunde Ridley, who won four Class A titles last spring (100 meters, 200, long jump, triple jump) and five overall during his career at Carlinville. His leap of 24 feet, 2 inches in the long jump last spring set a Class A record.

    There''s Chris Jones, who captured his second consecutive Class A title in the 400 last spring. The Lisle High graduate also won the 800 state crown as a sophomore.

    There''s 1996 Class AA high jump champ T.J. Jumper of Springfield Lanphier, with a personal best of 6-111/2.

    There''s Anna-Jonesboro''s Matt Lasley, the ''96 Class A pole vault champ.

    And there''s Centennial''s Ben Beyers (fourth in the Class AA 300 hurdles), Heritage''s Luke Heppe (third in the Class A high jump), Centralia''s Tyrone Jones (second in the Class AA 400) and Scott McClennan (a former member of Canada''s Junior World cross-country team).

   Last spring, then-freshmen True and Lamb set the standard bar awfully high for this next class. The duo combined with current senior Barry Pearman and current junior Matt Klima to earn All-America honors by placing fourth in the distance medley relay at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

   On their own, True placed third in the 800 at the Big Ten Conference indoor meet, while Lamb was fourth in the 800 at the Big Ten outdoor event.

   Wieneke sees the same sort of spunk True and Lamb displayed then in his freshman group now.

   "They''re ferocious competitors," Wieneke said. "Bobby and Cortney were the same way last year, and this whole crew is really competitive with each other and everyone. So that bodes for a pretty good future for those guys."

   For the present, says Wieneke, those guys need only blend in with a solid core of veterans for the Illini to be successful.

   "We have experienced people across the board and we just have to put them together with the newcomers and see what happens," the UI coach said.

   No returning vet has made a bigger impact during his Illini career than Dorian Green. The senior sprinter is a two-time All-American who ranks second on the all-time UI list in both the indoor and outdoor 400 and in the indoor 200.

   Last winter, Green was named Athlete of the Championship after sweeping the 200 and 400 and anchoring the 1,600 relay team to victory at the Big Ten indoor meet.

   "He''s never had worse than a third place (in a Big Ten meet)," Wieneke said. "So he steps up every single time."

   Klima stepped up his contributions big time last season. Besides running the 400 leg on Illinois'' All-American DMR unit, the Oak Park native broke the UI record in the indoor 600.

   In the long distance events, the Illini have two proven performers in Pearman and junior Jason Zieren. Pearman, a graduate of Georgetown-Ridge Farm High, last winter was the runner-up in the Big Ten indoor mile. Zieren came in third in the Big Ten outdoor 10,000 in the spring.

   In contrast, the UI field events sector doesn''t return a single athlete who scored in the postseason. However, Wieneke is confident that veterans like junior long jumper Joe Knuffman and sophomore triple jumper Nick Vitellaro can step up their performances. Knuffman, from Liberty, was the 1994 Class A state champion in his specialty.

   Even if such vets do come through, though, there still figures to be plenty of opportunities in the field events for the newcomers.

   "I think we have the luxury of having a blend," Wieneke said.