Ashley Spencer set a school record of
June 11, 2012
Champaign, Ill. -
It was a banner year for Illini Athletics in 2011-12 and the recipients of Illinois' Newcomer of the Year Awards represent just how strong as both honorees claimed national titles in their respective sports. Gymnastics' C.J. Maestas and track and & field's Ashley Spencer were named the winners of the annual awards presented by the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Spencer has proven to be among the nation's best sprinters at a young age, winning the national title in the 400 meters at the recently concluded NCAA Outdoor Championships. She became the first freshman to win the title in the event since Sanya Richards of Texas did so in 2003 and first Illini to win a national title in the 400 meters. Her winning time of 50.95 is the fastest collegiate time in the nation this year and a new school record.
Spencer helped Illinois to its best Big Ten outdoor finish in five years (second) with three conference individual championship performances. Spencer broke the Big Ten meet record with a winning time of 51.02 in the 400 meters while also finishing first in the 200 meters (22.99) and as a member of the 4x400-meter relay.
Although focusing on the 400 meters at the NCAA outdoor meet, the Indianapolis native ran an automatic "A" Olympic Trials qualifying time of 23.08 in the 200 meters in her first outdoor meet of the season. That followed an indoor season which saw her win three Big Ten titles (200, 400, 4x400) and set school records in the 200, 300 and 400 meters, and as the anchor leg of the 4x400-meter relay.
"I couldn't believe it," Ashley Spencer said of the most recent honor. "I want to thank everyone who took the time to read the sheet of my accomplishments this year. It's nice to know others really appreciate how hard I've worked here at Illinois as part of the women's track and field team. I am very happy."
Maestas becomes the first men's gymnast to earn the distinction since the award was implemented in 1990. Spencer is the fifth from women's track to win the honor and first since Angela Bizzarri in 2007.
Maestas became the first rings national champion in school history and helped lift the Illini to the 2012 national title as a team, the first team title for the school since 1989. The freshman from Corrales, N.M., scored a 15.300 to become the first Illini freshman to win a national title since Paul Ruggeri in 2008. Maestas also earned All-America honors on the pommel horse, placing sixth with a score of 14.550, and in the all-round, tying for second (89.700) at the NCAA Championships.
Last weekend Meastas retained his status on the U.S. Senior National team and punched his ticket to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials following his performance at the Visa Championships in St. Louis. He won the Big Ten all-around title and was Big Ten Gymnast of the Year, helping the Illini to their fourth straight Big Ten title. Maestas won 20 individual event titles on the year, including eight on rings, which ties a school single-season record in that event, and five in the all-around. He was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week five times and earned the bronze medal on the rings in both the 2012 Winter Cup Challenge and the 2011 Pan-American games.
"The other freshmen who were up for this award are my friends too," Maestas said. "I'm blessed to even be in that category and honored to have that title."