Illini hurdler hopes to make short work of foes

Illini hurdler hopes to make short work of foes

CHAMPAIGN – Illinois hurdler Perdita Felicien traveled more than 500 miles for a race 60 meters long.

Three hours on a plane for eight seconds on a track.

Felicien hopes it's less than that.

"I think I can finish under eight seconds flat," Felicien said as she prepared for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. "The competition is so strong that that's what it will take to win."

The University of Arkansas hosts the weekend meet with the 60-meter hurdle finals taking place this afternoon. Felicien's personal-best time of 8.0 seconds ranks her second in the country behind Ohio State's Donica Merriman.

"I'm excited about the race to the point where I think I need to tone it down a little," Felicien said. "Practice went well. I took a look at the facility, and I just want to get a good night's rest and go for it tomorrow."

Before she left for Arkansas, Felicien was named the Big Ten Women's Indoor Track and Field Freshman of the Year by the conference's coaches. It was an award she was surprised to receive.

"I was shocked," Felicien said. "It's great to know that all the hard work and practice paid off."

Jason Van Swol and Tom Marchese also will represent the Illini in Fayetteville. Van Swol earned his second trip to the championship meet in the 800 meters, and Marchese will make his first appearance in the pole vault.

"This has always been something that I've always wanted to accomplish," Marchese said. "I've jumped against a lot of the guys that will be down there, and I've been trying to qualify for a long time."

Marchese qualified in last week's Last Chance meet at Notre Dame. He cleared 17 feet, 51/2 inches to earn a spot in this weekend's meet. The pole vault finals are tonight.

"I told Tom that he doesn't have to do any more than he did to get this far," coach Gary Wieneke said. "He'll be fine if he's consistent and performs at the level he's already at. That takes a little bit of the pressure off."

Van Swol will run a preliminary race today before Saturday's 800 meter final. He's ranked 13th in a field in which the top five qualifiers are freshmen.

"Most of the other guys haven't been there before," Van Swol said. "I think that gives me an advantage. I've been on that track before, and I've been in this race before. It gives me a lot of confidence."

Van Swol gave Marchese a little advice before Wednesday's practice. "Don't warm up too much, and don't change your routine," Van Swol said. "That could affect the way you compete."

Wieneke knows his athletes will represent Illinois well.

"They've both worked hard and competed well all year," Wieneke said. "Tom was under a lot of pressure just to qualify. Jason's been down this road before, and he knows what to expect."

ILLINI NCAA QUALIFIERS

Name, Event, Comment

Perdita Felicien, 60-meter hurdles, Big Ten Indoor Freshman of Year ranked second in nation

Tom Marchese, Pole vault, 15th-ranked qualifier cleared personal-best 17-51/2 last weekend

Jason Van Swol, 800 meters, First runner to win three straight Big Ten indoor 800 titles

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