Armstrong flashes brilliance

Armstrong flashes brilliance

CHAMPAIGN – His coach calls Sherman Armstrong "Mr. Reliable."

Chances are Iowa's Scott Williamson has a few other choice words to describe Illinois' do-it-all junior.

Williamson was at least 15 meters ahead of Armstrong on Saturday night on the final leg of the 4x400-meter relay at the UI Outdoor Track Stadium. Then Armstrong kicked it into a gear that ate away all of that formidable lead and more.

Unofficially, UI coach Gary Wieneke had Armstrong clocked at 46.06 seconds, a time that would rank in the top seven in school history in the open 400. Whatever Armstrong ran, it was enough to overtake Williamson and give Illinois its eighth victory of the night, half of which the Illini junior had a hand in.

"Sherman has another unbelieveable day," Wieneke said.

Armstrong also ran on Illinois' first-place 4x100 relay and swept the hurdles. He came within an eyelash of his school record (49.81) in the 400 hurdles, recording a 50.67. The Chicago native won the 110 hurdles in 14.03.

All this while playing cheerleader to his teammates in what, for the regular season, was a rare scored meet.

"I try to encourage them," Armstrong said. "I try to do that at all meets, but I really stressed it today. Let them know it all counts."

As it turned out, Illinois couldn't overcome a trio of its key performers coming up lame during races. Indiana won with 142.5 points, and the Illini were second with 131.5 and Iowa third at 101.

Jason Van Swol (800), Tyrone Jones (400) and Champaign native Quincy Washington (100) all were impaired in or knocked out of races by what Wieneke described as muscle cramps.

"Hopefully, none of them are serious," Wieneke said. "Things are in place. We just didn't have all the pieces in place right now. But competitive effort, we can't question."

Other UI winners were Nick Gow (1,500), Babatunde Ridley (200), Justin Norberg (pole vault) and Brandon Lloyd (long jump).

Lloyd wasted little time or motion en route to his win. The former three-time Missouri prep track champ went 23 feet, 4 1/2 inches on his second attempt and then, at the direction of UI field events coach Tom Doyle, called it a day.

Though the distance wasn't record-book material, it was better than anyone else on this day. And by a guy, Doyle pointed out, just one week out of spring football practice.

"He jumped in the same conditions as everyone and calmly walked out and took care of business," Doyle said.

Lewis sets record

Centennial graduate Gia Lewis broke a 4-year-old UI record in the discus, unleashing a 182-2 throw in a dual against Indiana.

"That's a great throw," UI coach Gary Winckler said after Lewis eclipsed Laura Mindock's 175-9. "We've known she could do that all along. It's just finally great to see it happen."

Also winning for the Illini were Chequetta Bearfield (200) and Perdita Felicien (100 hurdles). Illinois was without standouts Tisha Ponder (jumps) and Tara Mendozza (middle distances) because of illness or injury in a 118-78 loss to defending Big Ten indoor champion Indiana.

"When we get some people back, we're a much better team," Winckler said.

Indiana's Jennifer Brown set personal records in sweeping the shot put (52-7 1/4) and hammer (172-11). The St. Joseph-Ogden grad had a large group of family and friends on hand.

"Anytime you can come back to a college that you've grown up around and to win makes it a little more special," she said.

Two-time Olympian Tonja Buford-Bailey, in Champaign to train under Winckler, won the 400 hurdles but was disappointed in her 59.12 clocking.