Illinois Finishes 12th at NCAA Outdoor Championships
June 13, 2009
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Sparked by junior Angela Bizzarri's national championship in the 5,000m, the Illinois women's track and field team finished tied for 12th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships with a total of 18 points. It marked the program's best team finish since tying for 10th in 2002.
Illinois' ranking was second among Big Ten teams only to Michigan, which finished seventh with 28 points and had two national champions. Texas A&M won the team title with 50 points.
Bizzarri won the 5,000m title on Friday night with a time of 16:17.94, crushing the field by over eight seconds. She is the first Fighting Illini national champion since Perdita Felicien won the 100m hurdles title in 2003, and her win marks the seventh national title in program history. Bizzarri's first-place national finish is the first in Illinois history in a non-hurdling event. She joins the elite company of Felicien (100m hurdles champion in 2002 and 2003, 60m hurdles champion in 2002), Tonja Williams (400m hurdles champion in 1995 and 1996) and Illini head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey (400m hurdles champion in 1992) as the only national champions in school history. Bizzarri is easily the most decorated distance runner in Fighting Illini history as a seven-time All-American and six-time school record-holder.
Not to be overshadowed, junior Aja Evans and senior Deserea Brown also were crowned All-Americans during the week. Evans placed fifth in the shot put on Thursday with a throw of 53-11 1/4, earning the third All-America accolade of her career and her first at the outdoor championships.
Transferring to Illinois for her senior year from SIU-Edwardsville, Brown closed out an outstanding season for the Orange and Blue by placing fifth in the 400m hurdles on Friday with a time of 57.31. Competing in her signature event for the first time as a Division I athlete, Brown cruised to the final and ran a season-best time of 56.96 in event preliminaries. She now has an All-America accolade in the 400m hurdles to go along with her NCAA Mideast Regional and Big Ten titles in the same event. Illinois has now had an All-American in the 400m hurdles in three of the last four years.
Along with the three All-Americans, six other Illini competed at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Sophomore Chantelle Groenewoud missed the final of the 3,000m steeplechase by one place, finishing 15th in preliminaries. Groenewoud timed a personal-best 10:17.37 in her race, ranking as the second-fastest performer in school history and improving on her steeplechase performance at last year's national meet by 31 seconds.
Latoya Griffith also had a noteworthy performance, advancing to the semifinal of the 400m hurdles as a true freshman. Griffith timed 58.18 in the first round of the event, and closed out a successful debut season as an All-Big Ten and All-Region honoree.
Sophomore Melissa Bates concluded her breakthrough season at the national meet as well, placing 22nd in the first round of the 400m (54.33). The Big Ten 400m champion, Bates also split 52 seconds in anchoring the Illini 4x400m relay of freshman Ashley Kelly, senior Omoye Ugiagbe and freshman Ryisha Boyd to a time of 3:36.36 and 14th place finish in prelims.
Track and field action will continue over the summer for the Illini, as they will have competitors at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships and Canadian Track & Field Championships in the upcoming weeks.
2009 Illinois Outdoor Track & Field All-Americans
NCAA Outdoor Championships Final Team Standings
1. Texas A&M............50