May 16, 2009
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Junior Aja Evans repeated as conference shot put champion, highlighting an exciting and successful day of competition for the Illinois women's track and field team on day two of the Big Ten Outdoor Championships at Ohio State's Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
The Illini had four athletes score points toward the team total on Saturday and stand in sixth place going into the final day of competition. The Orange and Blue had a total of 13 representatives advance to tomorrow's running finals, including four athletes in the 400 meters, and will also have entries in the 5,000 meters, triple jump and high jump on Sunday. Illinois also had 13 performances that hit the NCAA Regional Championships qualifying standard and even more personal-bests.
"We had a great day overall," head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said. "With Aja (Evans) winning the shot put, Jessica (Penney) getting third in the long jump and having the maximum number of entries make the 400 meters final, it was unbelievable. We're looking to make some noise tomorrow."
Evans had a winning shot put throw of 54 feet, 4 3/4 inches, handily defeating the rest of the field and scoring 10 points for the team. She won the event title for the second consecutive Big Ten Outdoor Championships after setting an Illinois and meet record of 55-10 1/2 in 2008. Evans has now hit the regional qualifying standard in the shot put seven times this year.
"I'm really happy I was able to win the title again," Evans said. "I hope to continue the winning streak tomorrow with the 4x100m relay and help the team with as many points as possible."
Sophomore Jessica Penney also earned a trip to the awards podium, taking third in the long jump. Jumping into a strong headwind, Penney's leap of 19-11 1/2 earned her a bronze medal and six points for the Illini. Michigan's Tiffany Ofili took first in the event with a mark of 21-3 1/4.
Sophomore Chantelle Groenewould had a memorable performance in the last race of the day, the 3,000m steeplechase. Groenewould finished fourth overall with a time of 10:19.30, shattering her personal-best by over 16 seconds and moving into second on the Illinois all-time performance list. Cassie Hunt holds the school record with a time of 9:55.75. Michigan State's Nicole Bush ran away with the steeplechase title with a time of 9:41.87.
In the heptathlon, junior Alecia Beckford-Stewart moved up to fourth place and scored the first five team points for the Illini at the championships. She totaled 5,172 points in the two-day competition, hitting the NCAA Championships provisional qualifying mark and matching her exact point total from earlier this season at the Mt. SAC Relays. Beckford-Stewart was propelled by a long jump of 20-1 3/4 that was one of the best of her career and scored her 893 points.
The 400 meters highlighted the running trials, as all four of the Orange and Blue's entries made tomorrow's final. Sophomore Melissa Bates led the way with a personal-best time of 54.01, which was the second-best time in prelims and the fastest time by an Illini this season. Freshman Ryisha Boyd also automatically advanced to finals, finishing second in her heat and fifth overall with a personal-best time of 54.26. Senior Omoye Ugiagbe hit the regional qualifying standard in the 400 meters for the first time this season, timing 54.27 to advance. Junior Paris Streeter rounded out the Illini's quartet of qualifiers, crushing her personal-best with a time of 54.65. Streeter was also just 0.04 seconds away from the regional qualifying standard in the event.
The Illini had three athletes - Bates, Ugiagbe and senior Deserea Brown - qualify for event finals in two events. Along with the 400m, Bates and Ugiagbe also advanced in the 200m, placing eighth and ninth in prelims with season-best times of 24.24 and 24.33, respectively.
Brown was a force in the hurdling trials, running season-best times in both the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles. She will be the top seed in the 400m hurdles final after timing 58.18 in prelims, and also ran the third-fastest 100m hurdles prelims time. Brown's performance of 13.52 is the fastest by an Illini this season.
Six-time All-American Angela Bizzarri cruised to the 1,500m final, easily winning her heat in prelims with a time of 4:25.45. Bizzarri will also run the 5,000m final tomorrow, looking to pick up big points in both events.
Other Illini advancing to tomorrow's finals include sophomore Tamika Robinson in the 100m, freshman Latoya Grifith in the 400m hurdles and senior Nikkita Holder in the 100m hurdles. Robinson timed 12.01 for the sixth-fastest time in the 100m prelims, while Holder ran 13.81 in the 100m hurdles to qualify for the regional championships in the event for the first time this year. Griffith ran 1:00.50 in the 400m hurdles, good enough for the fifth-fastest time of the day. The Illini 4x100m relay also advanced to finals, timing 45.71 to place fifth.
Robinson also missed qualifying for the 100m hurdles final by 0.01 seconds. Other noteworthy performances on Saturday included Beckford-Stewart placing ninth in the long jump and junior Shannon Phelan taking 11th in trials of the 800m.
Sunday action at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships begins at 10 a.m. CT with the triple jump. The running finals will begin at 11:45 a.m. with the 4x100m relay and end at 2:45 p.m. with the 4x400m relay.
Illinois Saturday Results at Big Ten Outdoor Championships
Q/q = qualified for Sunday event final
4. Alecia Beckford-Stewart 5,172 points; 5 team points
Shot Put (FINAL)
1. Aja Evans 54-4 3/4 (16.58m); 10 team points
3,000m Steeplechase (FINAL)
4. Chantelle Groenewoud 10:19.30; 5 team points
11. Shannon Phelan 2:12.63
3. Angela Bizzarri 4:25.45 Q
Big Ten Outdoor Championships Women's Team Standings - 8 Events Scored
1. Minnesota 54
2. Penn State 47
3. Indiana 45
4. Purdue 42
5. Michigan 36
6. ILLINOIS 26
7. Michigan State 24
8. Wisconsin 22
9. Ohio State 13
10. Iowa 3