There Were Plenty Of Gems To Be Found At The IL Club Relays

There were smiles abound from the athletes who competed in the Illinois Club Relays fest


Something that many high school track and field athletes do not take into consideration as they are looking to participate in intercollegiate athletics is the opportunity to be a part of The National Intercollegiate Running Club Association (NIRCA). This past weekend created a new experience for Milesplit Illinois like never before. Over the past 12 years, The University of Illinois Track Club has organized one of the largest meets hosted by a club track team in the nation.

On Saturday, February 29th, the Illinois Club Relays took action. In an atmosphere filled with passion and excitement, over 700+ athletes competed in this NIRCA affiliated meet. The 60 hurdles started the competition off with Sophomore Tatiana Montanez of the Illini Track Club taking the win in 10.31. It is the little things that make these athletes satisfied with their performances and for Montanez, it was three- stepping her race for the first time ever.

What makes club track different from participation in varsity athletics is that the athletes involved in club track are looking to better themselves and only themselves. From a personal perspective, many athletes in varsity athletics have higher expectations for their performances like scoring at a conference meet or nationals, whereas these athletes are in it for fun.

Freshman Josh James from the Illini Track Club took the win in the men's in the 60 hurdles to some close competition as well in 8.66. Josh, a former athlete from Wheaton North High School who took 6th at the 3A IHSA state meet in both the 110 and 300 hurdles this past spring chose the Illini Track Club. After having high expectations in high school, Josh decided to take track and field in a different direction and just continue his passion for the sport.

For the women's' 60 meter dash, Ibu Ajifolokun from the University of Illinois took the win in 8.39. Though many of the athletes who partake in club track are primarily in it to pursue their passion, there are also some athletes who participate in it to be competitive and even have goals to make it onto the varsity team.

Freshman Adam Wiatr from the Purdue Track Club has similar goals. The Roselle (Lake Park) High School 2019 graduate won the 60-meter dash with a new personal record of 6.94 beating his previous record of 6.97, which placed him third at Illinois Top Times in 2019. Adam has been using club track as a way to perform better, train, and hopefully, make it onto the varsity team. The opportunity to be a part of the club track team provides athletes with a chance to compete and improve their marks to possibly take them to the next level. 

To kick off the relays, the 4x800 relay team from the Illini Track Club brought home an incredible win coming from behind with a strong anchor leg from junior John Kellum. Not only did the relay team claim the victory, but they also set a new meet record in a time of 7:59.55. All four athletes have made appearances at the state championship meet at some point in their high school careers. John has medaled in the 800m at state and junior Josh Mollway brought home a state title in the 4x800m relay for Neuqua Valley in Class 3A in 2017.

The top three finishers in the mile later in the day were all members of the record-setting men's' 4x800 team. Mollway and junior Nikita Smyrnnov battled out the top spot with Josh taking the win in 4:25.47 with Nikiti right on him in 4:25.88.

The energy in the Armory during this race was unbelievable. In an exciting friendly team competition, the spectators were on their feet cheering them on to the finish. Several athletes including these distance stars chose to be a part of the club team at the University of Illinois because they want to be in an environment where track was not one of their top priorities, but still want to be a part of something they have done for a good portion of their lives. 

The mens' and womens' 4x200 relay teams took the win for the Illini with the men setting a new meet record at 1:31.91 and the women winning in a time of 1:51.72 respectively. Both teams knew that handoffs were crucial for their performance, which is what their main focus in this race.

In the field, there were several notable performances like the long and triple jump for instance. On the women's' side, Alex Schaub from Illinois State University track club took the win in both horizontal jumps with a 4.9-meter jump in the long jump and 10.58-meter jump in the triple jump.

In the men's' triple jump, Jad Karajeh from the University of Illinois took the win with a 13.33-meter jump. Overall, the University of Illinois Track Club took the team win on both the men and women's sides for the 12th year in a row.

For high school athletes looking to compete collegiately, the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association offers an incredible opportunity to pursue your passion for track and field. Whether you are looking to focus on academics and are interested in doing track and field for fun or are someone who is looking to make it onto a competitive team in the future, NIRCA is something that could work for you! Almost every college in the nation offers a club track and field team. Take part in such an exciting experience and get involved!