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Penn State defends conference title

Illinois' Block-Jones loses high jump on criteria

By Kevin McGavin

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.—It was not the weekend the women on Illinois’ track and field team envisioned.

The Illini placed in only a handful of events and finished last in the 11-team field.

Penn State crowned four total champions en route to a decisive 136-102.5 victory over Nebraska at the three-day competition. It was the Nittany Lions' second-consecutive Big Ten Conference outdoor championship.

“This weekend was a collection of very talented athletes, very passionate athletes,” Penn State Beth Alford-Sullivan said. “We won the indoor (title). They didn’t want to go out without (the outdoor) win. They had to go out and execute this weekend, and they did that.”

Four points separated the same number of teams in the battle for third place -- host Purdue (89) eased past Iowa (86), Michigan (86) and Michigan State (85).

Illinois’ 21 points trailed Minnesota, Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The decathlon and heptathlon dominated the first day of action on Friday, but Alyssa Schneider provided Illinois’ women with one of their biggest moments in the only open event of the night — the 10,000-meter run.

A former multiple state qualifier for Bartlett High School, the junior ran the second-fastest time in program history, 34 minutes, 23.64 seconds, to place fifth.

“It was my first one,” Schneider said of the 25-lap event. “It takes a specific meet to run the 10K. We didn’t go to any this season. I have really been concentrating on the 5K this season. I wanted to stay with the (lead) pack and not run alone. I was looking for splits in the 82s.”

Illinois hurdler Jessica Ejesieme, who hails from Texas, contibuted to Illinois' points with a fifth-place finish at 100 meters and sixth-place run at 400 meters in respective times of 13.37 and 59.48 seconds.

Indianapolis native Ahlivia Spencer returned to her home state and finished eighth in the 800 for the Illini.

The unquestioned top performer for the Illini field-event contingent was Kandie Block-Jones.

The redshirt freshman from downstate Argenta-Oreana High School tied for the high jump championship at slightly more than 5 feet, 8 inches but lost the title on criteria to Khanishah Williams (Iowa).

Former West Aurora all-stater Mariah Smith has been one of Illinois’ most consistent athletes in the field this year.

The fourth-year junior advanced to the finals of the discus Sunday but failed to place by one spot.

Smith qualified for the regional in two weeks in Arkansas with a career-best throw of 167-plus feet this spring.

“Coming from three tough years, I definitely feel this has been (a breakout season),” Smith said. “(My coach, Ron Garner, and I) have been really hard (working). The coach’s change has really helped me. He brought a lot of ideas and new coaching styles here.”

Many of Illinois’ top female recruits struggled with injuries.

Lindsay Rakosnik and Britten Petrey scripted state-championship resumes at Glenbard East and Schaumburg high schools.

“More than anything, this is an opportunity to get back on the track,” said Rakosnik, the 2011 Class 3A state champion at 800 meters.

Rakosnik failed to advance to the Sunday finals in the event.

Petrey, a redshirt sophomore, returned from knee surgery.

“The season was a really good stride,” said Petrey, part of the Saxons’ state-championship 3,200 relay team three years ago. “I would have loved to have made the finals (in the 1,500 run). It was not a good night (Saturday in the preliminaries).”

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