Illini relay message

Illini relay message

   CHAMPAIGN  Illinois freshman Jason Van Swol this week received his indoctrination into a rather highbrow club.

   He joined the Illini''s 1,600-meter relay squad. Two members, sophomore Sherman Armstrong and junior Tyrone Jones, return from last year''s feared foursome, which set a school indoor record, won the Big Ten indoors and took second at the NCAA meet.

   So Van Swol and fellow freshman Kendall McCroy had the unenviable task of stepping into the mix for the season-opening Illinois Invitational at the UI Armory.

   "I ran it in high school, and even though we were disqualified in the state meet, we had the No. 1 time, so I know what''s expected of a good 4 by 4," said Van Swol, a two-time 800-meter state champ at Lincoln-Way. "Not to this extent, but I know there''s got to be a lot of pride behind it. When they got up and lined the track, you can see how much it impacts the entire team."

   They looked in midseason form Saturday, cruising to victory in 3 minutes, 14.81 seconds, slightly more than a second off the NCAA provisional qualifying standard.

   "We definitely get on them and let them know we have not lost a 4 by 4 in the Armory and that we''re not going to start," said Armstrong, who also won the 200. "Me and Tyrone, we''re the veterans. We''re just trying to take them under our wing, share the knowledge that we have. They''ll listen to us. They''re very coachable. Good athletes."

   Said Van Swol: "They took charge of Kendall and I, showed us the ropes, so to speak. They made it clear this was our track and the 4 by 4 won''t get beat no matter who''s here."

   The Illinois men had few problems in their opener, compiling 195 points. Eastern Illinois scored 155, Indiana State 148 and DePaul 71. Parkland College and McKendree College were nonscoring participants.

   The Illini went 1-2 in the pole vault (Justin Norberg and Mikel Mikolay), 60-meter dash (Babatunde Ridley, George McDonald-Ashford) and mile run (Cortney Lamb, Ryan Eason). Jon Russell won the 5,000, Van Swol took the 800 and Bobby True captured the 600. Lamb was second in the 3,000, edged at the line by 0.01.

   "Most everything that was on the drawing board pretty well materialized," coach Gary Wieneke said. "From a coach''s perspective, usually you like the first meet (if it''s) 50 percent positives, 50 percent problems. We''re about 90-10."

   Wieneke has some options for his 1,600 relay. There''s Van Swol, whose 6-foot-5 frame makes tight turns an adventure; McCroy, Indiana''s 400-meter state champ in 1996; and freshman Jeremy Boudreau, who won Oklahoma''s 400 title in ''96.

   "That relay has been a pride factor for a long, long time, and it''s just another start on that tradition," Wieneke said.

   Bolstered by Stacy Ann Grant''s record performance in the high jump, the Illini women were second, 25 points behind Indiana State.

   Grant matched her own school record indoors with a jump of 6 feet, 1 1/4 inches. That topped the previous Armory record, which Grant established last winter at 6-0 1/4.

   "Stacy Ann probably jumped a little better than we thought in this first week," coach Gary Winckler said. "She did a pentathlon on Wednesday and came back today, so it''s been a tough week for her."

   Sophomore Aleisha Latimer won the 60, was second in the long jump and took second in the 150 while cramping at the finish. Freshman Camee Williams led a 1-2-3 sweep in the 60 hurdles and finished right behind Grant in the high jump.

   Winckler liked what he saw from his freshmen  along with a solid performance from sophomore Tara Mendozza. She won the mile by almost 20 seconds and helped the distance medley relay  which included Villa Grove grad Jordana Meyer  win by 34 seconds.

   "Tara just looked fantastic today, very composed, very mature in her running," Winckler said.

   Area products at Eastern Illinois also enjoyed some success. Hoopeston Area''s Marissa Bushue was second in the triple jump, and Centennial''s Candy Phillips was fourth in the 60 hurdles. Westville''s Gabe Spezia was runner-up in the 60 hurdles, and Rantoul''s Ruffner Francis took third in the high jump.

   Two Parkland athletes eclipsed junior college national meet standards. Jesse Rhoades was third in the shot put (49-9 3/4), and Spencer Smith placed fourth in the 600 (1:22.01).

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