Willis returns from hip injury for outdoor season

Todea-Kay Willis redshirted all of the indoor season but won two titles at the season’s first outdoor meet.

Megan Ryan

There is rarely an opportune time for athletes to be injured.

Women’s track and field sprinter and jumper Todea-Kay “TK” Willis was an exception to that rule.

The junior planned to redshirt the entire 2012 indoor season so she could compete a full year as a senior. But Willis suffered a left hip injury a few training sessions into the new year.

“It came at the right time,” Willis said. “It kind of set me back a lot. I couldn’t run on it for a long time, so I had to do rehab.

“It pained my heart when I couldn’t compete,” she added.

Youth and injuries curbed Minnesota’s expectations of a successful indoor season — the low point being the team’s last-place finish at the Big Ten indoor championships. Much hope for the outdoor season hinged on the return of athletes like Willis.

“It’s good to have her back. She’s a good leader, a good person,” head coach Matt Bingle said. “We missed her a lot indoors.”

Willis holds the outdoor school record in the long jump set last year of 21 feet, 1.5 inches. She also finished 16th at the NCAA championships last season. She won the event at the Big Ten championships her 2010 season.

If the start of this outdoor season was any indication, the junior may enjoy similar success as years past. She won two titles — the long jump and the 4×100 meter relay — at the Aztec Invitational two weekends ago before the meet was cut short because of rain.

“I couldn’t wait to get back on the track. It’s just that feeling that you get when you’re there and that feeling of competition,” Willis said.

“She’s really filled in the role of trying to pull everyone together, especially since she is the lead-off leg,” said Chimerem Okoroji, one of Willis’ teammates in the 4×100 relay.

“We’ve really come to really count on her to get us started on the right foot.”

As if seeing each other on the track wasn’t enough, the two also live together.

“She is always really bubbly, and she’ll make you laugh whenever,” Okoroji said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her angry or anything like that at anyone.”

Willis, Okoroji and the rest of the team will compete March 30-31 at the Arkansas Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., where the competition will be a step above that of the Aztec Invitational.

“It’s the right type of meet for us right now since it is our first true outdoor meet where we’re really preparing for it,” Bingle said. “We didn’t get to accomplish some of the things we wanted to [in San Diego with the weather]. I’m excited to let the girls go at it this weekend and see what they can do.”

Willis may be the most excited of them all, at least according to her teammates.

“TK, she’s been itching away and really just excited to be traveling with the team again this outdoor season,” Okoroji said. “I don’t have any doubts that she’s really going to contribute to the team standings.”

Notes

—Some members of the men’s team will also travel this weekend to the Texas Relays in Austin on March 29-31.

Throwers Trey Davis, Dominique Howard, Mark Jennings and Quentin Mege will compete in Austin, head coach Steve Plasencia said.