April 14, 2009
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Fighting Illini women's track and field team is geared up for an important week of competition, splitting up its roster four ways for three different meets. This is one of the final weeks the entire team will be in competition prior to the Big Ten Championships on May 15-17.
"This is another important weekend for us," head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said. "We are hoping for better weather than we had last week at Arizona State. Hopefully we can get some more breakthrough performances and NCAA regional qualifiers at LSU, and we are looking for some big things from the distance girls at Mt. SAC."
Below is a preview of each of the meets the Illini will be competing in this week:
Mt. SAC Heptathlon // Azusa, Calif. // Wed. April 15 - Thurs. April 16
Junior Alecia Beckford-Stewart will get things started for the Illini on Wednesday morning, competing in the Mt. SAC Heptathlon at Azusa Pacific University. This will be the first time Beckford-Stewart will compete in the heptathlon this outdoor season. The last time she competed the event was at the Canadian Track and Field Championships last July, where she achieved a personal-best point total of 5,210. Beckford-Stewart will be tested over her two days in California, competing against top-tier NCAA and international multi-event athletes.
Mt. SAC Relays // Walnut, Calif. // Thurs., April 16 - Fri. April 17
Distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen and five Illini athletes will head to Walnut, Calif. for the Mt. SAC Relays, one of top distance meets of the year. Junior Angela Bizzarri, a six-time All-American, headlines the Illini competitors in running the 5,000m for the first time of the outdoor season. The 5,000m became Bizzarri's signature event last year, as she was runner-up at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, advanced to event finals at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, was NCAA Mideast Regional champion and set the Illinois school record. Bizzarri will run the invitational section of the event against mainly professional athletes. The race is scheduled to start on Friday at 10:50 p.m. CT.
Sophomore Chantelle Groenewoud will run the 3,000m steeplechase for the first time this season, competing in the Olympic Development section of the event on Thursday at 8 p.m. CT. Last season as a true freshman, Groenewoud competed in the steeplechase at the NCAA Outdoor Championships after finishing runner-up in the event at the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships. Other Illini competing at the Mt. SAC Relays are junior Elizabeth Boyle and freshman Kristin Sutherland in the open 5,000m and sophomore Shannon Phelan in the open 1,500m. Both races will take place on Friday.
LSU Alumni Gold // Baton Rouge, La. // Saturday, April 18
Head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey will travel a group of sprinters, hurdlers and field event athletes to the LSU Alumni Gold meet to face top-level competition that includes No.1 Texas A&M and No. 3 LSU. The meet is scheduled to get underway at 8 a.m. CT on Saturday at Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
A pair of 400m runners highlight the list of Illini athletes looking for breakthrough performances. Sophomore Melissa Bates ranks first in the Big Ten with a time of 54.69, just 0.08 seconds off of the regional championships qualifying standard in the event. Senior Omoye Ugiagbe will also attempt to qualify for regionals, owning a season-best time of 55.37.
Dave Rankin Invitational // West Lafayette, Ind. // Saturday, April 18
A separate group of Illini will remain close to home, traveling to Purdue for the Dave Rankin Invitational. The running events are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. CT on Saturday. Illinois athletes competing include senior Nikkita Holder (100m hurdles), sophomore Cheria Morgan (100m), freshman Latoya Griffith (400m hurdles) and a small contingency of distance runners. Griffith returns to competition for the Illini fresh off of winning two medals for Barbados at the CARIFTA Games.
Up next, Illinois heads to the prestigious Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa from April 22-25.