DES MOINES, Iowa — It appears Drake Stadium and Illinois' 400-meter men's relay were made for each other.
The Illini relay of junior Andrew Riley, senior Azeez Shogbuyi, sophomore Josh Zinzer and junior Stanley Azie clocked 38.72 seconds Wednesday at the NCAA Championships, breaking Ohio State's 19-year-old Big Ten record of 38.93 and topping Illinois' school record of 39.17 that was set this year at the Drake Relays.
"The teamwork was top shelf on the relay," UI interim men's coach Mike Turk said. "We had the best handoffs we have had all year, and that was the difference."
Riley got the Illini off to a good start before handing the baton to Zinzer, who maintained the pace. After the second handoff, Shogbuyi kept Illinois out front before Azie ran the anchor leg, holding off Florida State (38.75) for the heat victory.
The Illini recorded the third-fastest time in the semifinals behind Texas A&M (38.38) and Florida (38.49).
Besides qualifying as part of the relay, Azie became the first Illini to make the 100 final (10.34) since Lester Washington did it in 1984.
"Stanley continues to show his competitiveness," Turk said. "His development from a walk-on to an NCAA finalist is incredible. Hopefully, he can clean up his start a little in the final."
UI senior Cody Wisslead advanced in the 400 hurdles, becoming the school's first final qualifier since Abe Jones and Adrian Walker in 2004.
"Cody ran very aggressively, which is exactly what he needed to do," Turk said. "He went out a little faster than usual and still had his trademark strong finish."
Wisslead claimed the final qualifying spot after running 50.34.
"It was a great day for the Illini," Turk said. "It was a great start to the meet with an amazing race by the 4x100m relay. They were fabulous today and will just have to remain focused for the final. I also couldn't be happier for our two seniors (Wisslead and Shogbuyi) who will represent us in event finals."
In women's action, UI junior Ashley Kelly recorded a personal best (52.71) in the 400-meter semifinals and qualified for the final.
Kelly is the first Illini to make the 400 final since Celena Mondie-Milner accomplished the feat in 1989.
"I am so happy for Ashley," UI coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said. "She ran a personal best and advanced to the final, so you can't ask for anything more from an athlete at the national meet. She has been working so hard this year and can run even faster. She looked awesome on the 4x100m relay, so I knew she was ready to run."
In the 400 relay, Kelly, Cheria Morgan, Tamika Robinson and Melissa Bates clocked their second-fastest time of the season (44.21), placing 13th.
"The ... relay did not run too bad," Buford-Bailey said. "It was a solid performance for that group even though they didn't advance. They were in one of the fastest heats, too."