Fri, May 23: Campus ready for Big Ten meet

   CHAMPAIGN  A fresh coat of paint''s been slapped on the track, the new wooden scoreboard''s up and running and, this is key here, the extra Port-o-Potties have arrived.

   The baseball stadium''s been turned into a campground, with a tent for the athletes, a tent for the medical people, even a tent for the media types covering this weekend''s Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

   Anything Illinois forgot?

   "I like the way they run things," Michigan State''s Stephanie Dueringer said. "But it can get a little windy there."

   The hosts even have that covered, bringing in an electronic wind gauge for the weekend.

   If the reading gets too high, the plan is for athletes to turn around and run the other way.

   "You don''t get a chance to do this that often," said Gary Wieneke, the men''s coach at Illinois, which is playing host for the first time since 1990. "You have to seize the opportunity whenever it comes."

   On your mark ... get set ...

   Ten things to be on the lookout for today through Sunday at the University of Illinois Track:

1. Big Ten history

   Wisconsin men have had a ton of fun in town this year  Ron Dayne running roughshod at Memorial Stadium and Duany Duany shooting like Annie Oakley at the Assembly Hall, both in Badger blowouts.

   This weekend, the track Badgers are back for more, hoping to become the first men''s team in Big Ten history to win three straight triple crowns  conference titles in outdoor track, indoor track and cross-country.

   "Are they the favorites? Yes," Wieneke said. "Are they the prohibitive favorites? Yes."

   Do they know it?

   Yes.

   "This is a take-care-of-business meet for us," senior hurdler supreme Reggie Torian said.

   Ed Nuttycombe''s Badgers have a Big Ten-best 14 athletes who rank among the top three in their events (Ohio State''s second with nine).

   Five of the 14 are No. 1: Torian, the defending champ in the 110-meter hurdles; Pascal Dolbert, whose 3,000 steeplechase time is tops in the nation; football receiver Tony Simmons, who''ll race Torian for the first time in the 100; James Dunkleberger, in action today in the decathlon; and Matt VanderZanden, the 1996 Big Ten triple jump champ.

2. Homecoming queen

   No better place for Dueringer to run her last Big Ten lap than Champaign, where it all started.

   The Centennial grad will finish up her Michigan State career on her home turf, running the 5,000 and 10,000.

   "I expect to win the 10,000," Dueringer said. "I can''t go in thinking anything less."

   Dueringer enters the weekend with the top time in her favorite race but isn''t considered the favorite. That distinction belongs to Wisconsin''s Angi Kujak, who won last year.

   "My nemesis," Dueringer said.

   If ''96 runner-up Dueringer can outrun Kujak, she''d become the first woman in three years to beat a Badger at any race from 800 to 10,000. Wisconsin, the only school in Big Ten history to pull off a distance sweep, has done it three times  ''96, ''95 and ''88.

   "That''d be a nice streak to break," Dueringer said.

3. Harry Reynolds

   The fastest man at this weekend''s meet won''t be racing.

   Harry Reynolds, better known as "Butch," is in his first year as an assistant coach at Ohio State, probably making him the only assistant track coach in the country with his own Nike contract.

   A three-time conference champ at Ohio State in the mid-1980s, Reynolds'' Big Ten outdoor championship record in the 400 (45 seconds flat) is 10 years old. One of his pupils, Eswort Coombs, has been clocked in a Big Ten-best 45.19 this spring.

   Reynolds, an Olympic gold and silver medalist, still owns the world record in the 400.

   Bring your autograph books.

4. Fab freshmen

   Penn State has the javelin guys (the top six in the conference are Nittany Lions), Wisconsin has the distance girls (Badgers top the leaderboard in 4 of 5 events) and Minnesota has the discus chuckers (men''s and women''s conference leaders).

   So what''s Illinois known for?

   This year, it''s fab freshmen.

   At the Indoor Championships, UI freshmen Chris Jones and Tisha Ponder were honored as the league''s Freshmen of the Year.

   Illinois has had plenty of freshmen win that honor outdoors  Danville''s Anthony Jones, Marko Koers, Tonja Buford, Tonya Williams, Aspen Burkett, Kerry Ann Richards  but never a male and female in the same year.

   This could be the one. Ponder, the Big Ten''s long jump leader, set a UI school record last weekend.

   "This week, she could jump farther than that," assistant coach Ron Garner said.

   The top men''s honor could go to Jones, second to Coombs in the 400 and also a threat in the 200, or classmate Tunde Ridley, an All-American indoors in the long jump.

   "It''s really tough to score as a freshman, especially in those events," Wieneke said.

5. Three-peat

   The Wisconsin men better live up to the hype.

   Or the Wisconsin women will let ''em have it.

   "They''re like the Utah Jazz of the women''s track scene," Torian said. "They''re coming up, making a name for themselves."

   After a five-year drought, the Badger women claimed Big Ten title No. 32 under coach Peter Tegen at last year''s outdoor meet, nipping Illinois 149-148. They repeated the feat during the indoor season and are the best bet to win this weekend.

   "They should," UI women''s coach Gary Winckler said. "Michigan has the capability, Ohio State has the capability, but I don''t think there''s anyone that should beat Wisconsin."

   One to watch: Canadian Kathy Butler. The two-time NCAA 3,000 champ has the top Big Ten times in the event as well as the 1,500 and 5,000.

   "She could win all three," Dueringer said.

6. Familiar faces

   The last time many of this weekend''s participants were in the area for a major meet, they walked away winners.

   Fifteen runners, throwers and jumpers who claimed IHSA championships in Charleston will be guests of the UI''s this weekend.

   The women: Indiana''s Cori McLeod (St. Charles) and Cassidy Wall (Lemont Mount Assisi); Iowa''s Becky Coleman (Libertyville), Megan Maurer (Wheaton St. Francis) and Ruqayya Raheem (Thornwood); Michigan''s Nell Shields (Glenbard West); Michigan State''s Lara Esko (Glenbard North); Purdue''s Khadijah Conda (Chicago Fenger); and Wisconsin''s Jenelle Deatherage (East Peoria).

   The men: Iowa''s Jim Donovan (Normal U-High), Alex Smith (Riverside) and Bashir Yamini (Thornridge); Michigan''s Neil Lindley (Marshall); and Wisconsin''s Simmons (Chicago St. Rita) and Torian (Thornwood). Torian''s the most decorated of the bunch, winning four IHSA titles. Only 25 boys in state history have racked up as many.

   "I''m going to have at least a million friends and relatives there," Torian said. "What better way to end it than in front of my home crowd?"

7. Leap year

   Is this the year the oldest record in the Big Ten books goes down?

   The one and only Jesse Owens holds it, and has since 1935, when he sailed 26 feet, 81/4 inches.

   Best bet to break it: Iowa''s Yamini, who went 26-5 his last time out, the fifth-best leap in the nation this year. Yamini was the NCAA runner-up during the indoor season.

8. Olympians

   After bouts with the world''s best hurdlers, anything the Big Ten challenges Neil Gardner with should be a pillow fight.

   "If I should be beaten, I would have to have a very bad race," Gardner said.

   Gardner, the Big Ten record holder and big favorite in the 400 intermediate hurdles, is 1 of 2 Olympians Michigan will bring to town.

   The other, Canadian Kevin Sullivan, should claim his third straight 1,500 conference title.

   Gardner won the NCAA''s 400 hurdles championship outdoors last year and the 55 title indoors this year  the only athlete ever to take both. Now, he''s got his sights set on the 110 NCAA crown, to be decided two weeks from Sunday in Bloomington, Ind.

   "My goal is ... a clean sweep," he said.

9. Wait ''til next year

   Looks like this is it for Illinois'' 10-year run of top-two women''s finishes outdoors.

   "It''s kind of ... what''s the word ... depressing," sophomore Stacy Ann Grant said.

   The Illini, so accustomed to being at the top of the Big Ten heap under Winckler, aren''t quite the team they could be. All-Americans Burkett, Richards, Collinus Newsome and Nora Weber are sitting the spring out.

   "If we had me and Aspen, we''d be a contender," Newsome said.

10. Tim Dwight

   If any Illini needs a scouting report on him, all they''ve got to do is ask their football friends.

   They know all about the Iowa speedster, who''s a football guy first. Dwight, a first-team Playboy All-American, averaged 19 yards a punt return last fall.

   He''s no slouch in track, either, placing second in the 55 dash indoors.

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments