Freshman standour Ashley Spencer won two IAAF World Junior titles, an NCAA title, six Big Ten crowns and broke six school records in her first year.
Aug. 7, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- During the 2012 track season, Illinois athletes collected seven total All-America distinctions and 21 All-Big Ten selections, including freshman standout Ashley Spencer's NCAA outdoor title in the 400m, seven Big Ten titles, while also breaking nine school records. In her fourth season, head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey saw the Orange and Blue score points at both the indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships and led the Illini to a second-place finish at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships and a fourth-place effort at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
The Illini started their indoor campaign at home in January with the Illini Open, where the team captured eight individual event titles, including sophomore Stephanie Richartz setting the school record in the pole vault. They followed up that performance with a pair of home meet victories the next couple weeks, which included 12 individual titles at the Illini Classic and eight individual crows at the Orange and Blue Open.
At the Tyson Invitational, two individuals set school records as Spencer recorded the fastest 400m time while Richartz reset her record in the pole vault. Also, the 4x400m relay squad of junior Marissa Golliday, senior Ashley Kelly, sophomore Jesica Ejesieme and freshman Ashley Spencer took second and timed the fifth-fastest in the record books.
The Illini scored 79 points and placed fourth at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in Lincoln, Neb., the highest finish for Illinois since the 2007 season. Spencer won two individual titles and was part of the 4x400m relay who crossed the line first (Asia Thomas, Ashley Kelly, Latoya Griffith, Ashley Spencer). The Indianapolis, Ind., native won the 200m, breaking the 22-year old school record set by Celena Mondie-Miller in 1989 and became Illinois' first indoor 200m champion since coach Buford-Bailey did so in 1993. Spencer also won the 400m and anchored the 4x400m relay, which set a Big Ten record and a new school record. Sophomore's Breeana Coleman and Stephanie Richartz picked up second-team All-Big Ten honors by grabbing the runner-up spot in the 60m hurdles and pole vault, respectively. For her efforts, Spencer was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the second Illini to earn the honor in the past eight seasons.
Seven athletes qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in four events including Spencer (200m and 4x400m), Coleman (60m hurdles), Richartz (pole vault) and the 4x400m relay of Kelly, Griffith, Thomas and Spencer. Spencer garnered her first-career All-America accolades after reaching the finals and placing sixth. The 4x400m relay placed 11th, Richartz finished the event in 12th place and Coleman placed fourth in her heat and 12th overall in the 60m hurdles.
The following weekend, the outdoor campaign started off strong, as three Illini won titles at the UCF Black and Gold Challenge then the squad compiled 72 points at the SEC/Big Ten Challenge at the end of March. Richartz set another Illinois school record and took the pole vault title while Griffith captured the 400m hurdles crown and added points for the Orange and Blue.
The Orange and Blue competed at the Eastern Illinois Big Blue Classic and picked up six event titles and set five meet records while junior Courtney Yaeger traveled to the Stanford Invitational and broke the 10,000m school record. The same weekend the Illini garnered three event titles as Spencer won the 200m, junior Madeline Aufmann took the 3,000m steeplechase crown and the 4x400m relay team took first at the LSU Invitational. Junior Kawanna Brooks highlighted the Tom Botts Invitational, racking up 24 points individually in the 100m hurdles, high jump and triple jump. Richartz also won her third pole vault event of the outdoor campaign.
The next weekend the squad split as junior Madeline Aufmann won the Open-B 3,000m steeplechase at the Mt. SAC Relays while Griffith (400m hurdles) and Brooks (long jump) won titles in their respective events at the John McDonnell Invitational.
Griffith highlighted the Penn Relays, as she won the 400m hurdle title while the 4x200m relay team of Ejesieme, Kelly, junior Kayla Smith and Spencer placed fourth and recorded the fifth-fastest time in school history. At the Drake Relays, Richartz placed runner-up in the pole vault while the 4x800m squad of sophomore Samantha Murphy, freshman Chloe Schmidt, Aufmann and sophomore Amanda Duvendack set the second fastest mark in the school record books.
Illinois finished tied for second at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships in Madison, Wis., the highest finish since the 2007 season. The Orange and Blue tallied 110 points and garnered five event Big Ten champions while three earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. Spencer won the 200m and 400m while Griffith won the 400m hurdles, sophomore Stephanie Richartz took the pole vault crown and the 4x400m relay team (Boyd, Kelly, Griffith, Spencer) won for the first time since 2005. Spencer won the 400m with a school, facility and Big Ten meet record with a time of 51.02, which at the time led the nation. Spencer was named Big Ten Track Athlete of the Championships and Freshman of the Year, becoming the first Illini to win the title of Big Ten Outdoor Athlete of the Championships since Cassie Hunt earned it in 2005. Spencer was the first Illini to earn Outdoor Freshman of the Year honors in 11 years, as Susanna Kallur last earned the title in 2001.
After the conference meet, the Illini sent 16 athletes to the NCAA West Preliminary Round of Championship in Austin, Texas. Six athletes in four events punched their tickets to the national meet during the three days of competition at Mike A. Myers Stadium. Spencer earned a trip to the outdoor national meet for the first time in her career as she competed in the 400m and anchored the 4x400m relay of Kelly, Boyd and Griffith which set a school record. The Illini also qualified athletes in both hurdles events with Coleman running the 100m hurdles while Ejesieme in the 400m hurdles.
Spencer highlighted the NCAA Outdoor Championships, winning Illinois' first national champion in the 400m and the first individual champion since 2009 when Angela Bizzarri won the 5,000m title. The freshman timed 50.95 to take the crown, which was a personal-best, a new school record and was the fastest collegiate time this year. Ejesieme earned second-team All-America honors in the 400m hurdles as she finished 10th overall. The 4x400m relay squad of Kelly, Boyd, Griffith and Spencer also qualified for the national meet, set a new school record but were disqualified because of a lane violation.
Spencer was named Illinois' Female Newcomer of the Year and was named to the Bowerman Award watch list in May after her performances at the Big Ten Championships. She was named one of 10 semifinalists a few weeks later for the award, which is given to the most outstanding male and female collegiate track and field athletes in the nation. Spencer was the second Illini to appear on the list since Bizzarri did so in 2010.
About a month after winning her NCAA title, Spencer won the 400m at the USA Junior Outdoor Championships, which qualified her to compete for Team USA at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona, Spain. While over seas, Spencer won two gold medals; first in the 400m and then with the 4x400m relay squad. The Illini freshman won the 400m setting a championship and school record time of 50.50 and became the second runner to win an NCAA title and a world junior title in the same year. A few days later, Spencer anchored the relay team and earned her second gold of the championships after the quartet set a new world-junior leading time of 3:30.01.