CHAMPAIGN – Illinois men's track and field coach Gary Wieneke's list of accomplishments is longer than the Boston Marathon.
He's won five outdoor and six indoor Big Ten titles. He's coached dozens of All-Americans, five NCAA champions and three Olympians. He's in the Illinois Track and Field Hall of Fame. So what's his secret?
"There isn't any trick," Wieneke said. "I just love what I do. I don't have any problem getting up for competition. Every year is different, and there is something new and exciting each time around."
Expectations are high as Wieneke prepares his team for the Illinois Invitational, a four-team event that kicks off Illinois' indoor season today. Field events start at 9 a.m., with running events at 11:30.
"We want to start off where we ended last season instead of starting all over," Wieneke said. "The goal is to compete for the Big Ten title."
All-American Sherman Armstrong leads the Illini's push for a conference crown.
"I think we have what it takes," Armstrong said. "Some of the guys just don't know it yet. You have to sacrifice. You have to run some events you don't want to run, and you have to run more events than you might want to. That's what it's all about."
Armstrong is the two-time defending conference champion in the 110- and 400-meter hurdles and competed last summer in the Olympic Trials.
Seniors Armstrong and Babatunde Ridley anchor the sprinters and hurdlers and also form half of a 4x100 relay that finished seventh last year at the NCAA indoor meet.
Assistant coach Erin Tucker takes over as sprint and hurdles coach after Willie Williams' retirement.
Junior Jason Van Swol leads a talented group of middle-distance and distance runners. The 1999 Big Ten Freshman of the Year won two conference titles in the 800 last year and also competed in the Olympic Trials.
Seniors Dan Horyn and Mike Lucchesi join Van Swol. Bernard Grady and Charles Burton lead the Illini in field events.
"We have talented athletes returning across the board," Wieneke said. "They've had the opportunity to develop, and now they're in a position to be successful."
In women's track, experience pays
Seconds are precious in track, but Illini women's coach Gary Winckler thinks years are important, too.
"This group is a year older," Winckler said. "We have a lot of sophomores and juniors instead of freshmen and sophomores. I think a lot of good things will happen to us this year because they know what it takes to compete at this level."
Olympian and All-American Perdita Felicien knows what it takes.
"We all have to be focused and committed as a team," the sophomore hurdler said. "I think we have the depth to win a conference championship. We're all a lot stronger and a lot more experienced this time around."
Felicien won the Canadian national championship in the 100 hurdles and earned a trip to the Sydney Games.
"I had a great time," Felicien said. "It was kind of overwhelming when I was there, but now that I'm home, I can fully appreciate it."
Felicien leads a group of talented sprinters and hurdlers that includes Chequetta Bearfield, Crystal Riley and senior Aleisha Latimer.
"Aleisha has made more progress this fall than she has in the last three years," Winckler said. "She's focused on some technical things that she needs to do with her sprinting that have helped her improve immensely."
Latimer, an All-American, hopes to rebound from a hamstring injury that kept her sidelined most of last year.
Tara Mendozza and Elizabeth Kampfe bring experience to a group of young distance runners. Mendozza, a two-time All-American in the 800 and the mile, returns after an Achilles' injury forced her to redshirt the 2000 outdoor season. Kampfe, a Decatur native and All-American at Michigan, is attending graduate school at Illinois and has one year of eligibility left. Kampfe will run the 5,000 and 10,000.