`Birds Ready to Compete at MVC Outdoor Championships
Sophomore Brianna Officer
Sophomore Brianna Officer

May 10, 2007

NORMAL, Ill. - With a number of key performers back in the lineup, the Illinois State track and field team is ready to compete at the 2007 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Outdoor Championships, which begins Friday in Des Moines, Iowa. The Redbirds will look to make a run at a Valley Championship at Drake Stadium, which is known as one of the nation's top track and field venues.

In the pre-championship coaches' poll, the Redbirds were picked to finish in fifth on the women's side with 34 points. Wichita State is the pre-championship favorite, having received all eight first-place votes and looks to claim its sixth-straight women's track title. Indiana State was tabbed to place second, while Northern Iowa (47) was chosen to finish third.

On the men's side, the `Birds were picked to finish tied for fifth with in-state rival Southern Illinois with 15 points. Northern Iowa, the 2007 indoor champions, are the favorite after garnering 35 out of a possible 36 points with five first-place votes. Indiana State (31) was chosen to place second, while Wichita State was picked to finish in third with 23 points.

The `Birds hope to finish higher than the expectations from the league coaches, and head coach Elvis Forde is excited about the opportunity to compete at Drake Stadium, which is home to the Drake Relays and will be the host to the 2007 NCAA Midwest Outdoor Regional and the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

"We are looking forward to the challenge this weekend," said Forde. "We are going into the championships having good practices and getting some of our top performers back. We are excited about competing at a fantastic facility, which also makes you eager to go to the event."

Junior Devon Williams will look to defend her title in the 100-meters and leads the women's side into competition. Williams will be joined by senior Lyn Cox, who was a MVC champion in the 200-meter dash in 2005. Junior Anna Lovell will also be a threat in the sprints, along with sophomore Brianna Officer.

Junior Suzy Turner and sophomores Kathleen Thompson and Kim Smudde are the `Birds to watch in the distance events, as well as sophomore Samantha Springer in the throws. Springer has already regionally qualified in the discus throw, and is a favorite to place in the shot put and hammer.

"I think that getting our top girls back will really help us improve in the team standings," said Forde. "If Devon, Anna, Kim and Lyn can all compete well, whether it's at 80 percent, I think it will benefit the team. We will be relying on those girls to score some points and give us a chance to finish high."

The men's squad will look to its sprinting core for the majority of its points, as junior Kelley Anderson, sophomore Samuel Watts, junior DeAndre Tillman and sophomore Maxwell Mkwezalamba will need to put up solid performances for the Redbirds to remain competitive in the team standings. Junior Alex Straughn, a regional qualifier in the high jump, will be another `Bird that will need to perform at a high level in the sprint and jump events.

Sophomore Carl Azab is a threat to place in the 400-meters, while TJ Fakehinde is another Redbird that could find his way to the podium in the high jump. Regional qualifier Jeremy Doherty and sophomore Mike Richardson leads the young but talented group of distance runners, with freshmen Jordan Anderson, Scott Krapf and Rob Barkulis among the group that could finish in the top-10.

Sophomore Blake Gish and juniors Bryan Chancellor, Anton Walczak and Joe Painter represent the Redbirds' best chances to score points in the throwing events, while freshman Nick Ragusa and junior Jason Field are contenders in the pole vault.

The MVC Championships begin on Friday with the decathlon at noon. For event-by-event results during the duration of the championships, please visit www.mvc-sports.com.