Illini topple top teams to win

By Kevin Olsen

The Illinois women’s track and field team took on top competition from around the country and ended up on top. At Saturday’s Illinois Women’s Invitational at the Armory, Illinois edged out Miami (Fla.) and top-15 teams Texas and UCLA to give its squad a huge boost early in the indoor track season.

“The concept of this meet originally was to get four great teams from four great conferences, and we had that here,” said Illini head coach Gary Winckler. “We had a lot of fun, and it was a great competition.”

Senior Amanda Pintaro won the pole vault with a personal best jump of 12 feet 7.5 inches. She was one of two individuals to win events, as junior Omoye Ugiagbe won the 400 meters in 56.66 seconds. The Illini also came back and won the distance medley relay with the team of Danelle Woods, Paris Streeter, Shannon Phelan and Kate Tysse.

“I had a lot of support from my teammates and we were all real excited coming into this meet because it was such a big meet,” said Pintaro.

“Amanda Pintaro had a lifetime best in the indoor pole vault … she beat a great team of UCLA vaulters,” said Winckler.

Ugiagbe competed in the 400 meters for the first time this season and did not miss a beat in returning to her best event. She was off pace of her best time, but still produced enough for a first-place finish.

“With the amount of competition that I had, I did what I could and I came out first, but I still have a lot of room for improvement,” said Ugiagbe.

The Illini, who were ranked No. 25 coming into the meet, toppled No. 11 Texas and No. 14 UCLA. Illinois finished with 122 team points, edging out Miami’s 120.5, Texas’ 119 and UCLA’s 110.5.

“We worked real hard in the fall and now it’s paying off,” Ugiagbe said. “I’m proud of the whole team and the effort and everything in general. I think this is going to motivate (the team) to do better all season.”

Other top performers for the Illini were Tiara Armstrong, who finished third in the 200 meters and fourth in the 60 meters. Aja Evans finished third in the shot put against a talented field of competitors, while Nikkita Holder finished second in the 60-meter hurdles and Liz Mengyan placed third in the mile.

Illinois also received help from freshman Melissa Bates. Bates finished third in the long jump and fifth in the 200 meters.

“The goal is to try to be improving week by week and eliminate some of our weaknesses and continue to build on our strengths,” Winckler said.

The Illini were without one of their senior leaders in LaNeisha Waller, who sat out because of an infected gland.

The Illini will compete next Saturday at the Armory alongside the men’s team in the Carle/Health Alliance Invitational.