March 13, 2008
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois women's track and field team is sending five athletes to this weekend's NCAA Indoor Championships, represented by sophomore Aja Evans in the shot put and the distance medley relay of Danelle Woods, Omoye Ugiagbe, Rachel Hernandez and Angela Bizzarri. The Illini are aiming to bring back All-America honors in both events.
The NCAA Indoor Championships are hosted by the University of Arkansas and scheduled for Friday and Saturday, March 14-15, at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark. The women's distance medley relay is the last event on Friday, scheduled to start at 9:30 p.m. Evans will compete in the shot put beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. Live results will be posted on the NCAA Championships link on www.ladybacks.com.
Head coach Gary Winckler has coached at least one indoor All-American in 18 of his 22 seasons at Illinois. At the 2007 NCAA Indoor Championships, Yvonne Mensah took sixth in the long jump and 14th in the triple jump, while LaNeisha Waller (60m hurdles) and Mariesa Greene (high jump) both recorded 11th-place finishes.
Aja Evans, Shot Put
Evans qualified for nationals in the shot put with her record-setting performance of 54 feet, 8 ¼ inches at the Iowa State Classic on Feb. 16. The sophomore broke the school record previously held by Colllinus Newsome, who incidentally was the last Illini shot putter to compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships, doing so in consecutive years from 1995-1998. Evans is seeded 12th out of 17 competitors and is the only Big Ten athlete represented in the shot put. The top seed in the event belongs to Arizona State's Sarah Stevens (58'4").
"Aja has done a lot of work in the last two weeks trying to get herself back to where she was at Iowa State," Winckler said. "Her goal is to try to get to finals and to become an All-American. At times, we've had a tough time recruiting strong throwers, so it's great to have some Illinois representation at the national meet."
Distance Medley Relay (Danelle Woods, Omoye Ugiagbe, Rachel Hernandez, Angela Bizzarri)
Illinois will look to earn All-America honors in this event for the first time in school history with the foursome of freshman Danelle Woods, junior Omoye Ugiagbe, senior Rachel Hernandez and sophomore Angela Bizzarri. Woods will lead off running the 1200m leg and be followed by Ugiagbe running the 400m, Hernandez the 800m and Bizzarri anchoring with the 1,6000m.
Friday marks the first career NCAA Championships appearance for Woods and Hernandez. Ugiagbe ran on the Illini 4x400m relay that finished 11th at the NCAA Indoor Championships in both 2006 and 2007, while Bizzarri ran the 1,500m at the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
"If they run the way they did at Notre Dame (on March 7), they have a good chance of earning All-America status," Winckler said. "It's going to be a different kind of race than what they've competed in so far this year. With 12 teams in the field, the track is going to be crowded and very competitive. All of our athletes are going in fresh and not running any other races, so they have a good chance to finish well."