Illini face uphill climb at Big Ten meet

COLUMBUS, Ohio  This is the last Big Ten track and field meet being held inside 76-year-old Ohio Stadium.

After the way Illinois'' men started, they might have been ready to throw a Woody Hayes-like fit, tear out the track surface themselves and send in donations for the new campus facility.

Instead, they took their lumps and hope their points come in clumps.

"That''s a good sign of the spirit of our team," Illini coach Gary Wieneke said.

Saturday''s worst blow was the failure of Joe Knuffman  the NCAA''s No. 5 long jumper at 25 feet, 8 inches  to make the finals. He fouled twice and then took off about 2 feet behind the board on a jump of 22-3.

On Friday, Scott McClennan, seeded No. 4 in the 10,000 meters, was a non-scoring 10th. And Mike Mikolay, a pole vaulter, withdrew from his first decathlon  because he didn''t clear a bar in the vault.

Today''s 98th conference finals amount to a handicap race for both the Illini men and women, who enter the starting blocks far behind the leaders.

Indoor champion Minnesota leads defending champ Wisconsin 451/2-43 in the men''s standings. The Illini are last with three points.

Michigan leads the women''s standings with 46. The Illini scored 11 points, although their 16 qualifiers for the finals are far ahead of the Wolverines'' nine.

"That was the message I gave to the team," said Illini women''s coach Gary Winckler. "Just get IN to the next day, and then take care of things."

Illinois'' Benita Kelley and Aspen Burket were 1-2 and 2-1, respectively, in the 100- and 200-meter trials. Kelley clocked 11.47 seconds in the 100, and her 23.37 in the 200 was close behind Burkett''s 23.22.

"Benita is going to give Aspen all she can handle in the 200  and in the 100," Winckler said.

The toughest blow for the Illini to handle was the fourth place by shot putter Collinus Newsome, who had been unbeaten in six previous conference meets. Also, defending champion Tisha Ponder was third in the long jump.

But the Illini qualified all four entries in the 100, three in the 200 and two in the 400 hurdles. Freshman Aleisha Latimer, whose sore leg had sidelined her since April 11, made it in both the 100 and 200.

The lone Illini to score for the men was senior Rob Winfield of Naples, Fla. For the second successive year, he saved his best for this meet, clocking a personal record of 9:05.91 for sixth in the steeplechase.

"I feel like Coach Wieneke gets me ready at the right time," Winfield said. "When you get here, it''s a team thing. It''s not about just what''s good for me.

"I feel a great responsibility at the Big Ten meet to do as well as I can."

The Illini had 10 men''s qualifiers, including doublers Babatunde Ridley (100 and 200) Sherman Armstrong (110 hurdles and 200) and Cortney Lamb (800 and 1,500).

Defending champ Bobby True coasted to victory in his 800 semifinal in 1:50.89. Lamb (1:52.07) was second in his heat behind 15-time Big Ten champ Kevin Sullivan (1:52.00).

Illinois sophomore Tyrone Jones was third in his 400 semifinal, but his time of 46.89 was a personal record and fourth overall. Teammate Chris Jones, a two-time conference indoor champ, was a non-qualifying 13th in 48.31.

In the 200, Armstrong came from behind to edge Iowa football star Tim Dwight, 21.39 to 21.40. Bashir Yamini, also of Iowa, had the best time, 21.09.

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