Mon, June 23: Illini earns spot on U.S. team

Mon, June 23: Illini earns spot on U.S. team

   EDWARDSVILLE  Injury and ineligibility had made this a painful freshman year for Candace Nicholson at the University of Illinois.

   She had one race to soothe the hurt: Sunday''s 800-meter final at the U.S. Junior Track and Field Championships.

   "I''ve been going to this meet since I''ve been a sophomore, from Florida to California to Ohio. And I finally made the team. And I won," Nicholson said. "I''ve got to thank God for that."

   This meet, open to college freshmen as well as high school athletes, is for those born in 1978 or later. The top two qualify for the U.S. team go to the Pan American Junior Championships July 18-20 at Havana, Cuba.

   Nicholson, who was third last year for her Cleveland high school, stayed off the fast pace set by Pitt freshman Chantee Earl and finished in 2:07.12. Illini freshman Tara Mendozza, last year''s runner-up, was seventh in 2:11.85.

   Nicholson said she was glad Illini coach Gary Winckler stayed attentive to her training even though she was among the many Illini who redshirted.

   "She wanted this really badly. She talked about this race all year," Winckler said.

   More Illini promise was demonstrated by recruit Aleisha Latimer of Colorado Springs, Colo. She finished second in the 200 in 23.43 despite running out of unfavorable Lane 1.

   Illini freshman Babatunde Ridley looked like he was on his way to Havana, too. His wind-aided long jump of 25 feet, 3 1/4 inches put him in second place through Rounds 3, 4 and 5.

   However, high schoolers Cameron Howard of Tullahoma, Tenn., and Chauncey Rogers of Newport News, Va., leaped 25-10 and 25-7 1/2, respectively, on their last attempts.

   Ridley fell to fourth. A potential winner on his last jump became only 22-5 3/4 when he dropped his right foot early, as he so often does.

   "I looked back at the sand and said, ''Whose footprint is that? Not mine,'' " Ridley lamented.

   "It always comes down, for some reason. I can''t control it."