Sophomore Ashley Spencer successfully defended her NCAA 400m title.
July 12, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Fighting Illini had a very memorable 2013 season, finishing 14th in both the indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships, winning the indoor Big Ten title and finishing second outdoors. Nine Orange and Blue athletes earned All-America honors, including sophomore Ashley Spencer after winning her second consecutive NCAA outdoor title in the 400m.
Illinois began their indoor season in January at the Illini Open, where the team collected nine individual event titles. The Fighting Illini then returned to the UI Armory the following weekend for the Illini Classic, where they won 11 of 16 events to win the title by an 83-point margin.
In February, the Illini traveled to Geneva, Ohio for the Spire Invitational, where two Illini broke school and meet records: sophomore Ashley Spencer in the 400m and junior Samantha Murphy in the 800m. Freshman Morolake Akinosun finished first in the 60m and ran with senior Marrisa Golliday and juniors Jesica Ejesieme and Ahlivia Spencer to win the 4x400m relay and set a new meet record.
The Orange and Blue returned to Geneva two weeks later for the Big Ten Indoor Championships, where they won the conference title for the first time since the 1996 season. Ashley Spencer won individual titles in the 200m and 400m for the second consecutive year, and set a Big Ten meet record time in the 400m. The 4x400m relay team of Spencer, Akinosun, Golliday, and sophomore Asia Thomas set a school record as they successfully defended their conference title. Akinosun won the 60m crown and placed second in the 200m, while Murphy finished second in the 800m and set a school record in the 600m to place third. Junior Stephanie Richartz set a school record in the pole vault and captured her first indoor conference title, while junior Breeana Colemon finished first in the 60m hurdles. Spencer was named Big Ten Indoor Track Athlete of the Year and of the Championships, Akinosun took home Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, and Illinois Head Coach Tonja Buford-Bailey was voted Women's Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year.
Seven Illini qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in eight events, including Akinosun (60m, 200m, 4x400m), Coleman (60m hurdles), Golliday (4x400m, Pentathlon), Murphy (800m), Richartz (Pole Vault), Ashley Spencer (400m, 4x400m), and Thomas (4x400m). Spencer earned her third All-America honor, finishing third and resetting the school record in the 400m (51.23). Murphy notched her first All-America honor after placing fourth and resetting the school record in the 800m (2:03.95). Golliday broke the school record in the Pentathlon, finishing in seventh place with 4,167 points, while Richartz placed eighth and matched the school record in pole vault. Both Golliday and Richartz earned All-America honors for their finishes. The Fighting Illini placed 14th with 14 team points which was the highest finish for the squad since the 2002 season.
Two weeks later, Illinois began their outdoor campaign at the Texas State Elite Meet, where three Illini won titles. The Orange and Blue than traveled to Tempe, Ariz. to compete in the Sun Angel Track Classic, where Ashley Spencer, Ahlivia Spencer, and Akinosun notched victories. At the 104th Drake Relays, the Illini captured the first annual HyVee Cup, accumulating 42 of a total 50 team points. Ashley and Ahlivia Spencer, Akinosun, and Murphy broke the sprint medley relay school record (3:45.75), and captured the first Drake Relays victory in the event since 1988. The Illini also broke a 20-year school record in the 4x800m, beating the previous time by nearly six seconds. The squad of junior Amanda Duvendack, sophomore Chloe Schmidt, Ahlivia Spencer, and Murphy finished second in the event with a time of 8:37.02. The Illini also took first place in the 4x100m (Ashley and Ahlivia Spencer, Colemean, Murphy) and the 4x400m (senior Lauren Hollingsworth, Golliday, Akinosun, Ashley Spencer).
Illinois placed second at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships in Columbus, Ohio, finishing with 120 points. Ashley Spencer won the 200m and 400m crown for the second consecutive season, while Murphy won the 800m. Richartz defended the pole vault title, and the 4x400m relay team of Ashley and Ahlivia Spencer, Golliday and Murphy took home the conference crown. Senior Courtey Yaeger broke the school record (34:17.37) and finished third in the 10,000m. For her efforts, Spencer was named Big Ten Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year and of the Championships.
After the conference championship, the Illini sent 18 athletes to the NCAA West Preliminary Round of Championship and qualified 11 for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore. Representing the Illini were Akinosun in the 100m and 200m, Ashley Spencer in the 400m, Murphy and Duvendack in the 800m, Golliday in the high jump, Richartz in the pole vault, and the 4x400m relay team of Ashley and Ahlivia Spencer, Golliday, and Akinosun.
Spencer successful defended her 400m national title, finishing with a time of 50.28, which was not only a personal best, but also a school record and the fourth-best collegiate time ever. Murphy finished fifth in the 800m and reset the school record with a time of 2:02.10. Akinosun earned her first All-America honors, finishing eighth in the 100m while Richartz finished sixth in the pole vault to earn the same distinction. Golliday earned second team All-America honors in the high jump, after she tied for ninth place with the fifth best mark in school history (5-10 3/4). The 4x400m relay team of Ashley and Ahlivia Spencer, Golliday, and Akinosun wrapped up competition for the Illini at the NCAA meet, earning All-America honors after finishing fifth with a new school record time of 3:29.28. The Illini finished 14th at the meet with 22 total points, marking the highest finish since 2009.
Ashley Spencer was crowned the Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the Year recipient, presented to the top male and female athletes at the University of Illinois each school year. She was also named a semifinalist of the Bowerman Award which is given to the most outstanding male and female collegiate track and field athletes in the nation.
In June, Spencer finished third in the 400m at the USA Outdoor Championships and qualified for the IAAF World Championships, where she will compete for team USA in Moscow, Russia in August.
Also earning post season recognition was Akinosun, who was named Illinois' Female Newcomer of the Year. She also won the USA Junior 100m title and finished runner-up in the 200m to qualify for Team USA at the Pan American Junior Championships in Medellin, Columbia in late August.