The U20s Rundown: Recap Of Illinois Contingent

The finishing scrum of the Men's U20 800m final was one to take in (Bobby Reyes photo)




EUGENE, Oregon--The two days of the U20s were long or short (depending on how you viewed the experience). Typically, the best up-and-coming 19-and-under performers compete in a simulated national championship that leads to either junior worlds or, in this case, the Pan-Am Championships to be hosted by Peru.

The first day of action was highlighted by former Oak Park-River Forest star Liam Newhart, who won the 5000m title for the University of Wisconsin with a time of 14:08.74. Newhart trailed throughout the contest but stuck with the front pack, seized the moment on the final lap, and won his first junior national title.

Conversely, on the women's side, a moment of happiness turned to sorrow for the former York standout Bria Bennis, now at Vanderbilt University. Initially, Bennis placed second in a hard-fought 5000m in 16:15.58. She was ready to punch her ticket for the Pan-Am's until she was told that her racing spikes violated rule 143.3A (Nike Vapor flys did not meet criteria.) Unfortunately, her performance was negated, and she was disqualified.

Bennis said, "My coaches were unaware that Nike vaporflys are not world-legal, and I raced in them for the 5k yesterday. I had a shoe check before and after the race, but no one informed me that I could not race in them, especially since they are NCAA legal. I have raced in them all season... so the USATF invalidated the race, and I no longer get the opportunity to race for Team USA in Peru." Bennis returned on Thursday to compete in the 3000m and took third with a personal best 9:43.80.

Former Hinsdale Central superstar Dan Watcke and his teammate Michael Skora met once again, but they were in different kits this time. Watcke runs for Villanova, and Skora represents Vanderbilt University. They went 1-2 in their 800m prelim and set the stage for the final.

In the championship, Watcke positioned himself well, with 200m to go, taking the lead with just a final home straight remaining. As Watcke stretched to get home, he was outleaned by freshman Michael Long of Ave Maria University in 1:47.54. Watcke earned another international trip with his 1:47.59. Skora placed fifth in a personal best 1:49.76.

Things began looking up for former Homewood-Flossmoor sensation Ana-liese Torian, who now competes for Alabama A&M University. Torian's bid for an NCAA Championship was foiled when she hit a hurdler in the NCAA East Regional 100HH qualifier and did not advance to Eugene. This time, it was peaches and cream for Torian, who produced the prelims top mark (13.31/+0.1). In the final, Torian ran a clean race, took a commanding lead at the fourth hurdle, and won easily in a personal best 13.12 (+0.0).

Paul Migas (Sr., Lakes) got on the medal stand but just missed making the team with a third-place finish in the pole vault, 17'4.50 (5.30m).

USC freshman discus thrower Reese Garland may be best known as the big sister of Oak Park-River Forest super senior state shot put champion Kaden Garland. Reese captured a berth to Peru with a second-place finish, tossing the plate an impressive 176'9" (53.89m). Kaden was seventh in the shot put with a put of 61'10.25."

Mya Strahm (Jr., Elmwood) took sixth in the pole vault (13'7.25"), and Chelsea Wetzel (Sr., Dunlap) was 12th in 13'1.50."

Reece Ihenacho (Sr., Cary-Grove) produced a solid effort in the DT with a toss of 183'9."

Former Rantoul standout Brianna Dixon, now at Southeast Missouri State University, took 10th in the high jump (5'7.25").

In the sixth and final attempt in the triple jump, Malik Allen (Sr., Edwardsville) leaped a series-best 49'2.25" to take fifth place.

U of Illinois freshman Sophia Beckmon won the long jump, but former Huntley HS star Alex Johnson of Arizona State University placed second with a qualifying 20'10.75."