June 12, 2009
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Junior Angela Bizzarri won the 5,000m title at the NCAA Outdoor Championships on Friday at John McDonnell Field, becoming the first Illinois women's track and field national champion since Perdita Felicien won the 100m hurdles in 2003. Bizzarri's win also marks the first time in school history that an Illini athlete has won a national title in any event other than the three hurdling events (60m, 100m, 400m).
"It's really exciting," Bizzarri said of her win. "This is definitely the biggest racing accomplishment I've ever had, being the national champion, and it feels awesome. I was actually really nervous before the race, but I tried not to doubt myself and have confidence that I could do it."
Bizzarri timed 16:17.94 to take the crown, handily defeating Oregon's Nicole Blood who was second in 16:26.58. The race pace started out slow, with Bizzarri hanging with the pack until she and Blood broke away with three laps remaining. The pair ran together for two laps before Bizzarri pulled away from Blood with 400 meters to go, cruising to the title by over eight seconds.
"This is awesome," head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said of Bizzarri's title. "She did wonderful and it was fun to watch. She stayed in control the whole time and looked relaxed. It topped off a great meet for us. She took charge like a champion with one lap to go and left the rest of the field."
Bizzarri is now a seven-time All-American for her career, winning the accolade three times in cross country and twice each in indoor and outdoor track and field. The Mason, Ohio native has had the best distance season in Illinois history in 2008-09, earning three All-America accolades (cross country, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field) and breaking five school records.
She was able to improve on last year's memorable performance at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, when she was the surprising runner-up in the 5,000m. This year was a different story, as she entered the national meet as the favorite to win the title, topping the field with a personal-best time of 15:37.39.
"She has never really been in this situation before, having the pressure of being number one coming in," distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen said. "Last year she was in the middle of the pack looking up, but she has shown in the past year she can run with anyone. I knew if she could run her last mile at 4:50 or under that no one could run with her. The plan was to be as patient as possible and try not to get tripped up. She followed suit and held her composure, and we're all very proud of her."
In other action, senior Deserea Brown also closed out the season as an All-American, as she placed fifth in the 400m hurdles final with a time of 57.31. UCLA senior Nicole Leach cruised to the event title in a time of 55.39. Illinois has now had an All-American in the 400m hurdles in three of the last four years.
Illinois Friday Results at NCAA Championships
1. Angela Bizzarri............16:17.94
** National Champion - Earns All-America honors **
400m Hurdles Final
5. Deserea Brown............57.31
** Earns All-America honors **