UIS track teams get off on the right foot
The University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) track and field teams hit the ground running.
For the first time in school history, men's and women's squads competed together in their first full team outdoor track meet in late March at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. The women's team had run a few indoor meets with abbreviated rosters.
Sophomore Krissy Finley led the way with a personal best in the mile with a time of 5:12.03 -- good enough for fifth overall and second among all Division II schools in the meet.
Freshman Lexi Yoggerst also set a personal best in the 400-meter dash. She finished at 0:59:24, placing her seventh overall and third among Division II schools.
Other top finishers were sophomore Maddie Logsdon in the javelin (15th overall; eighth among Division II), freshman Olivia Rohr in the mile (24th and eighth, respectively) and sophomore Aerial Storey in the 100-meter dash (30th and 16th, respectively).
On the men's side, grad student George Wayda finished seventh in the decathlon and was the top Division II finisher in the entire event.
Other top finishers were sophomore Eli Cook in the mile (12th overall; second in Division II), freshman Preston Henze in the 800 meters (ninth and fourth, respectively) and freshman Brendan Kroeger, also in the mile (12th and fifth, respectively).
Head coach Mike De Witt, who came to the program in 2015 with a history of helping to build up fledgling programs, took on both the cross country and track and field programs at UIS.
Men and women began running cross country i 2015, followed by women's indoor track in 2016 -- all leading up to the full team meet. De Witt has been able to use Division II scholarship money (the school recently transitioned to D-2 from NAIA) and smart recruiting tactics to get the team up and running, and he's utilizing his 38 years of experience to develop runners.
"The most important part is that the high school kids coming out in many cases don't understand how to race, particularly," he told the Sangamon Sun. "They just know how to go to the front and hang out as long as they can, and if they're good enough, they win. But our training is geared toward learning how to race a little bit better and putting the training onto the track, and the group has done a great job of that. We are very intentional about what we do in workout. The kids pick up that and it makes them smart runners, and they know what they're doing."
Moving forward, De Witt has some specific aims for the team.
"The goal I set for the team is who's going to be the first member of the team that's going to be ranked in the top 100 in Division II," he said. "Krissy Finley, who was fifth in the mile on Saturday, she was ranked 115th in indoor in the 800 meters, so she's knocking on the door. She's only a sophomore for outdoor track, so she's got a chance to move up there pretty good. And we also want to be competitive within the Great Lakes Valley Conference, get some points and finish ahead of some teams."
As for the long term, De Witt envisions his group racing to the top of the conference.
"We spent our scholarship money on middle-distance and distance kids, so I want to work our way into the top third of the conference in cross country," he said. "Our conference is very strong at the Division II level, so we can be competitive there within the next year or two."
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