Spencer, women second; men fourth at Big Tens

Spencer, women second; men fourth at Big Tens

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ashley Spencer massaged a sore hamstring and kept running. Stephon Pamilton jumped over a fallen athlete and kept running.

The two Illinois 400-meter champions kept at it Sunday, even if it was futile.

The Illinois women were second at the Big Ten Track and Field Championships, incapable of overcoming Penn State’s balanced scoring. Illinois’ men were fourth, just a half-point from third and seven points from second.

“Me and my team always say a dream that you don’t fight for ain’t going to happen,” Pamilton said.

The Illini came close to a dream sweep of women’s and men’s team titles indoors, with the women first and men second. They were in the mix to duplicate that finish outdoors.

Temperatures in the 50s and winds that gusted to nearly 20 mph at Jesse Owens Stadium did damage to times and distances, although points were more precious than marks.

Double’s no trouble
Even with a fourth 200/400 double by Spencer — two indoors, two outdoors — the Illini women could not keep pace with Penn State’s 1311/2 points. Illinois scored 120 and probably could not have reached 132.

“I don’t think there’s anything we personally could have done to change the results,” coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said.

She said the outcome might have been decided Saturday when Penn State advanced an army of qualifiers to Sunday’s finals, some of them unexpected. In Saturday’s javelin, Penn State scored 23 points, equaling the total by Illinois in all nine field events.

Illinois outperformed everyone on the track, and no one more so than Spencer.

She carried the Illini from fourth to second on the anchor of the 400 relay, dominated the 400, came from behind to beat 100-meter champion Mahagony Jones of Penn State in the 200, and brought the Illini from third to first with a 51.5 anchor in the 1,600 relay.

“People just see the times. When you see her run, you know there’s something different,” Buford-Bailey said. “She’s got real high top-end speed, and she doesn’t tire.”

Spencer raised her hand to delay the start of the 400, stretched and shook her legs in an attempt to stay limber in the cold.

“If I go too hard, I don’t want to pull anything,” she said. “I’d rather run a slower time and keep myself ready for regionals than run hard, tear something, and I’m out for the rest of the season.

“You’ve got to put those things aside until you cross the finish line. Then you deal with it.”

Her 52.26 in the 400 didn’t approach the meet record of 51.02 she set last year, but the conditions prevented the time from matching the fitness. She said she is “a hundred times better” this spring than in her freshman season.

“I know I can run hard,” Spencer said. “I need the weather conditions to work with me a little.”

If the Illini had secured a team title, it would have been because of an unexpected 20 points in the 800. Samantha Murphy was first in 2:06.62, followed by Ahlivia Spencer (third in 2:09.38) and Amanda Duvendack (fifth in 2:09.95).

“I think our team was a little bit down,” Murphy said afterward. “This will help.”

Murphy seized the lead after the first 200 meters were run into the wind and was never overtaken. Ahlivia Spencer, sister of Ashley, said it almost felt like a workout.

“In practice we run one behind the other, taking turns leading,” Ahlivia Spencer said.

Ahilvia Spencer (55.0) and Murphy (55.7) ran the second and third legs for Illinois in the 1,600 relay.

Elsewhere for the Illini, freshman Morolake Akinosun was second in the 100 in 11.36 and eighth in the 200. Jesica Ejesieme was third in the 400 hurdles, an event in which Penn State went 2-4-5 for 17 points.

Katie Porada led at the bell in the 1,500 before finishing sixth in 4:24.47. She was also sixth in the 5,000 in 16:17.53.

Sprinter’s injury hurts men
Nebraska, new to the conference, won its first Big Ten men’s track title with 1311/2 points. Minnesota scored 93, Wisconsin 861/2, Illinois 86, Iowa 85 and Ohio State 84.

Illinois’ champions were Pamilton (46.06) in the 400 and Vanier Joseph (13.70) in the 110 hurdles.

Illini coach Mike Turk said he could tell sophomore sprinter Brandon Stryganek “wasn’t right” in his leg of the 400 relay, in which Illinois was third. Stryganek pulled up lame after finishing sixth in the 100 and scratched from the 200.

“That’s what really kind of shot us down for the day,” Turk said.

Surprises came from two freshmen: a fourth by Ian Barnett in the 5,000 and a sixth by St. Thomas More graduate Ben Dodds, who threw a career-best 203-10 (fourth best in school history) in the javelin.

“We talk about people who are going to break the form chart, and those are guys who did that,” Turk said.

Joseph smacked a few hurdles — including the last one hard — but maintained rhythm and held off Iowa’s Jordan Mullen, 13.70 to 13.76. It was another impressive race by Joseph, who clocked 13.59 into a headwind to win at the Drake Relays.

“It’s just blessing that I didn’t fall over that last hurdle,” he said.

Pamilton didn’t fall this time, either, despite encountering more traffic trouble. He was clipped twice on the anchor leg of the 1,600 indoors and finally went down.

This time he had to leap over a Nebraska runner to start his anchor.

In his seventh race over two days, Pamilton’s 46.5 anchor carried the Illini to second in 3:09.00.

It wasn’t much easier in the 400, in which he added an outdoor title to his one indoors.

“The wind was horr-i-ble. Horrible,” Pamilton said. “And it switched, every 100 you hit.”

Illinois’ highest-scoring event was the pole vault: Cody Klein, Matthew Bane and Mitch Mammoser finished 2-3-5 for 19 points.

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