May 13, 2007
University Park, Pa. - The Illinois women's track & field team captured the 2007 Big Ten Outdoor Championship on Sunday afternoon, racking up an amazing 106 points during today's third and final day of competition to finish the meet with a total score of 129. Illinois and Michigan were co-champions, marking the first time in Big Ten history that there has been a tie for the women's outdoor title.
"I am so proud of our team and the way they competed across the board today," an elated head coach Gary Winckler said following the meet. "We asked an awful lot from them, there were some tough doubles and a few competed in as many as three or four - or in the case of Yvonne (Mensah), five - events during the day with not a lot of recovery time in between. We started scoring in bunches and making our move up the standings and our athletes felt that momentum and thrived on it. I'm especially happy for our seniors. They are an exceptional group that has done an outstanding job leading our team by example, and it's fitting that they go out on top in their final Big Ten meet."
This marks Illinois' 11th conference championship under Winckler, and the program's sixth outdoor title. It is also its second title in the last three years, as the Illini also won the Big Ten outdoor meet in 2005.
"It's an amazing feeling being Big Ten champions," senior Yvonne Mensah said. "We knew coming in it was going to be tough, a lot of people thought we'd be in the top three if we did well. But about halfway through today, we realized we were making a big move and that the title was in reach. Then we got excited and started talking and encouraging each other and I think that got us even more motivated."
Mensah had a spectacular weekend in helping lead Illinois to the championship. She captured four gold medals today, winning the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes and triple jump, as well as anchoring the Illini's victorious 4x100-meter relay. Mensah also anchored the UI's second-place 4x400-meter relay and took third in the long jump to collect a staggering 40.25 points individually.
"Of course every time you step out there your goal is to win, but when you're doing multiple events your focus goes from one thing right to the next, there is no time to enjoy it," Mensah said. "It didn't hit me until after the meet was over. That's when I got pretty pumped up. Everything went the way I had hoped. My birthday is in two days, so I think this is a pretty good early birthday present."
"Yvonne had probably as successful a Big Ten meet as any athlete we've ever had, and that puts her in pretty good company," Winckler said. "I can't think of anyone else that has carried her workload, doing that many events. And to finish with four firsts, a second and a third, it was just an outstanding performance."
Mensah won the 100m in a time of 11.53. She was one of three UI placewinners in the event. Junior Tiara Armstrong was Big Ten runner-up at 11.64, while junior LaNeisha Waller finished eighth, clocking 12.03.
Mensah ran a season's best and NCAA regional qualifying time of 23.57 in winning the 200m. Also scoring in that event was Armstrong, who finished sixth with a time of 24.05.
Seniors Carlene and Camile Robinson both recorded personal bests in the 400m, as Carlene finished fourth with a regional qualifying time of 54.14 while Camile placed fifth with a regional qualifying time of 54.39. Sophomore Omoye Ugiagbe was a third Illini scorer in that event, taking seventh at 55.10.
Waller was the Big Ten runner-up in the 100m hurdles, clocking 13.41 seconds while sophomore Nikkita Holder placed fourth at 13.59.
A team-high four athletes scored in the 400m hurdles, led by Camile Robinson, who was runner-up with a time of 58.05. Carlene Robinson finished fourth at 58.81. Sophomore Briana Cunningham ran a personal best time of 59.43 to finish sixth, while junior Alondra Cooper took eighth at 1:00.50.
Illinois had three placewinners in the field today. Mensah won her third career Big Ten triple jump title with a season's best and regional qualifying jump of 42 feet, 6 ¼ inches. Senior Kristina Jones took sixth in the triple jump, also recording a season's best and regional qualifying mark of 41 feet, 3 ¼ inches. Freshman Alecia Beckford-Stewart, who yesterday finished sixth in the heptathlon, placed seventh in the high jump with a personal best jump of 5 feet, 7 ¼ inches.
Illinois won the 4x100m relay conference title in a time of 45.02 seconds. The relay team consisted of Armstrong, Waller, Carlene Robinson and Mensah.
Illinois, which began the day in seventh place, made a steady climb up the team standings and had moved into second place - trailing Michigan by three points - entering the meet's final event, the 4x400m relay. The team of both Robinsons, Ugiagbe and Mensah finished second with a season's best and regional qualifying time of 3:35.58, earning eight points. Michigan, meanwhile, finished fourth in the relay for five points.
Just like that, Illinois erased the three-point deficit in dramatic fashion to bring a share of the conference title home to Champaign.
Big Ten Outdoor Championships - Final Team Standings 1. Illinois 129 1. Michigan 129 3. Penn State 121.5 4. Minnesota 106 5. Iowa 81 6. Indiana 62 7. Purdue 58 8. Wisconsin 55.5 9. Michigan State 42 10. Ohio State 35
1,500m Run Final 11. Angela Bizzarri 4:25.09 R
5,000m Run Final 14. Stephanie Simms 17:29.09
R = NCAA Regional Qualifying Mark