Riley misses repeat

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Omo Osaghae of Texas Tech was supposed to be Andrew Riley's chief obstacle to repeating as the NCAA's 110-meter hurdles champion.

Instead, Osaghae ran into an obstacle of his own, literally, in the form of one of the hurdles on the Drake Stadium track Saturday.

Riley, the two-time national collegiate titlist from Illinois, nearly took full advantage by running the second-fastest time of his career in the finals. But even a 13.33-second clocking wasn't quite enough for the Illini junior to make some history.

LSU junior Barrett Nugent saw to that, edging runner-up Riley with a time of 13.28 to win a heated, crash-marred race.

"Came up short, second place," said Riley, who had won a similar duel against Nugent in March to capture the NCAA indoor 60 hurdles crown. "But, you know, Nugent is a very good competitor. The (race) was stacked with great guys, talented guys, and this year I was second place.

"Disappointed, but it goes sometimes that way."

As the four-day NCAA Outdoor Championships concluded, there was no reason for Illinois to be disappointed with its overall performance, which included a surprising third-place finish by its 400 relay team.

Scoring 14 points on the final day, the Illini tied for 12th in the team standings with 18. The finish was Illinois' highest since 1988, when it placed seventh.

"I'm ecstatic with a 12th-place team finish," UI interim head coach Mike Turk said. "It is a testament to all the hard work put in by the athletes and coaches this year. The five guys here this week have put the program on their back."

Six-time All-American Riley had to overcome an uncharacteristically slow start out of the blocks — and nearly did.

"I was the last one out," he said. "I saw a lot of guys in front of me. I had to dig deep."

Riley was attempting to become the first Illini in 51 years to win consecutive NCAA outdoor titles in the same event. George Kerr was the last to accomplish the feat, in 1960, when he repeated as the 880-yard champion.

"It was a tough race with strong winds and guys running fast," Turk said. "Even though some guys fell around him, Andrew held it together well."

Osaghae, who posted the fastest time during Thursday's semifinals (13.32), saw his finals bid thwarted when he tangled with a hurdle early in the race. The Raiders senior regained his balance and continued but finished seventh in the eight-runner field in 17.53. Terence Somerville of Cincinnati also stumbled over a hurdle and dropped out of the race, placing last.

Meanwhile, Riley maintained his tunnel vision.

"I heard a lot of crashing around me," he said. "I was focused on my lane."

Those who stayed on their feet turned it into a heated race to the finish line, with the top five running under 13.40 seconds.

Riley — who finished 0.01 second shy of his school record — needed a near-record run to fend off third-place Brendan Ames. The Southern California senior crossed 0.01 second behind Riley. And the fourth- and fifth-place finishers were 0.04 second back of Ames.

Riley, as the leadoff runner, also played a key role in the 400 relay. Seeded ninth entering the semifinals, the foursome of Riley, Azeez Shogbuyi, Josh Zinzer and Stanley Azie showed Wednesday it shouldn't be overlooked by blazing to a school- and Big Ten-record 38.72 to advance to the finals.

Then, the Illini unit proved that performance was no fluke, clocking a 38.96 on Saturday — the second sub-39-second time in school history — to finish behind only Florida State and Texas A&M in the finals.

"The guys had terrific handoffs and competed at the highest level from start to finish," Turk said. "They embody teamwork to the point that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts."

Illinois was competing in the 400 relay finals for the first since 1964, when it won the event, which was then run as the 440-yard relay. That championship Illini foursome included Gilwyn Williams, Mel Blanheim, Mike Yavorski and Trenton Jackson.

Senior Chantelle Groenewoud concluded her Illini career by placing 12th in the 14-runner finals of the 3,000 steeplechase, earning second-team All-America honors. Two days after running a career-best 10:04.00 in the semifinals, Groenewoud clocked a 10:22.59.

"I was a little disappointed with the race today because it was slower, but I am pretty content overall with how the weekend went," the three-time national qualifier said. "Each year I competed at the national meet, I felt like I fit in more and more, so it felt great to race in the final in my last year."

The UI women tied for 66th in the team standings with one point.

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Tom Menacher wrote on June 12, 2011 at 9:06 am

Yes, great effort by our team. As a long-time track fan, maybe this will be the beginning of the Illini being a force in collegiate track circles once again.