Sports Editor Matt Daniels shines the spotlight on five Illini to watch for this weekend
at the Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championships before the action starts on Friday:
The Oakwood graduate is still running. And running well. The 23-year-old — who won The N-G’s cross-country Athlete of the Year honors in 2013, 2014 and 2015, The N-G’s boys’ track and field Athlete of the Year accolades in 2015 and 2016 and The N-G’s boys’ Athlete of the Year in 2016 while starring for the Comets — is a three-time All-American at Illinois. He’s a threat to win the 1,500-meter run, and he’s also slated to take part in the 5,000 on Sunday afternoon.
The graduate transfer from Michigan sure has made good on his lone season with the Illini. An in-state product from Rushville, Plater finished third at the NCAA Indoor Championships in the weight throw, and he’s a solid choice to potentially top the podium in the hammer throw when he competes in that event on Friday afternoon. He set the school record with a heave of 229 feet, 1 inch earlier this spring and holds the top mark among the rest of his Big Ten competitors.
Taking advantage of his sixth season of eligibility this spring hasn’t slowed down the 25-year-old Wells. The native of Fox Lake already won a Big Ten title before, doing so in the high jump in 2018. It’s one of three events Wells will strive to compile points for Illinois in on Saturday, while also using his talents in the long jump and 110-meter hurdles. He boasts the top Big Ten mark in the long jump at 25 feet, 71/2 inches and the second-best showing in the high jump at 7-1.
The sophomore from Solon, Ohio, won a Big Ten indoor title in the mile earlier this year and will look to add to her collection on Friday night. Howell is slated to compete in the 1,500-meter run, with her seed time of 4 minutes, 18.61 seconds among the top six in the field of 34 runners. Danae Rivers of Penn State, Sarah Anderson of Michigan State and a trio of Indiana runners in Bailey Hertenstein, Kelsey Harris and Hannah Stoffel are only faster than Howell by a few seconds.
The sophomore from Normal will try to pull off the difficult feat of winning the 400-meter run on early Saturday evening. Her top time of 53.37 seconds in the event happened almost two weeks ago at the M City Classic in Minneapolis and rates as the second-best time among the field of 26 runners that will take part in the one-lap sprint. Only Ziyah Holman of Michigan (52.45) has posted a better time this spring, putting McDowell in a favorable spot on her home track.