May 30, 2008
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Sophomore Angela Bizzarri won the 5,000m title on Friday at the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships, earning a trip to the NCAA Championships and setting a facility record for the Illinois women's track and field team.
Bizzarri timed 16 minutes, 24.38 seconds (16:24.38) to win the race and set a new John McDonnell Field record on the Arkansas campus. She was running with a pack of five athletes over the last 800 meters, but kicked ahead in her final lap to pull out the victory. The sophomore will be making her second consecutive trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, after running the 1,500m last season. Belmont's Lauren Weaver was second behind Bizzarri in the 5,000m in a time of 16:26.02.
The top five individuals and top three relays in every event at the regional championships receive automatic bids to the NCAA Championships, which will be held from June 11-14 in Des Moines, Iowa.
"I'm really excited," Bizzarri said. "I was mainly trying to just qualify for nationals and see how I felt, but I was able to pull out the win. Last year I was one of the last people selected to the NCAA field, so it's nice to know that I'm going for sure this year. It should be a lot of fun."
Illinois had a productive day in the sprinting and hurdling events as well, qualifying in four events to Saturday's finals. Senior LaNeisha Waller led the charge in the 100m hurdles, winning her heat to automatically advance. She timed 13.05, the fastest race of her career, but was running in excessive wind conditions. The senior finished fourth overall in preliminaries and will be looking for her second consecutive trip to NCAAs in the event.
Waller also advanced to finals as a member of the 4x100m relay, running the second leg and teaming with senior Tiara Armstrong, freshman Cheria Morgan and freshman Tamika Robinson. The squad timed 45.22 to finish second in their heat and run the fourth-fastest race of the day. LSU easily had the fastest prelims time, setting a new NCAA Mideast Regional record in 43.51.
Senior Briana Cunningham advanced to finals in the 400m hurdles, running a personal-best time of 57.90 to qualify. The reigning Big Ten champion was second in her heat and seventh overall in the prelims field.
Sophomore Katie Engel rounded out Illini advancing to Saturday event finals by qualifying in the 1,500m, timing 4:29.24 to place ninth.
"We really had a good day overall," head coach Gary Winckler said. "LaNeisha (Waller) had a strong day of competition, and Angela (Bizzarri) obviously was super. We qualified for finals in the events we expected to. Our long jumpers had trouble with fouls, but their jumps were big."
Freshman Jessica Penney was 12th in the long jump with a distance of 20 feet, 2 1/2 inches, while Waller was 16th (19' 8 1/4"). Armstrong ran in the 100m and 200m prelims, running a personal-best 11.52 in the 100m to finish 10th and timing 23.86 in the 200m to finish 13th. Rounding out Illinois' competitors on Friday were Rachel Hernandez in the 1,500m (4:32.98, 14th) and Nikkita Holder in the 100m hurdles (13.52, 18th).
Illinois will resume competition at the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships on Saturday beginning at noon with Aja Evans in the shot put. Cunningham, Engel and Waller will all run in their respective finals as well as the 4x100m relay. The Illini's final event of the meet is slotted for 7:15 p.m., when Danelle Woods and Chantelle Groenewoud will run the 3000m steeplechase. Live results can be found throughout the meet on www.hogwired.com.
Illinois NCAA Mideast Regional Championships Friday Results
1. Angela Bizzarri 16:24.38
10. Tiara Armstrong 11.52
13. Tiara Armstrong 23.86
100m Hurdles (Prelims)
4. LaNeisha Waller 13.05 Q
18. Nikkita Holder 13.52
400m Hurdles (Prelims)
7. Briana Cunningham 57.90 q