Women’s track to keep up focus



By Kevin Olsen

Coming off of an impressive victory in the Illinois Women’s Invitational, the women’s track and field team will try to keep the momentum going Saturday. The Illini will compete in the eight-team field in the Carle/Health Alliance Classic at the Armory.

While the Illini will not face the same kind of competition they saw last week when they faced UCLA, Texas and Miami (Fla.), associate head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey does not believe it will alter the team’s focus. They will still be going after individual times, as they prepare to hit full speed for bigger meets later in the indoor season.

Illinois is expected to have one of their senior leaders, LaNeisha Waller, back this weekend for her first meet of the season. She will be participating in the 60-meter hurdles and the long jump and should provide competition and motivation for the younger athletes. Buford-Bailey even called this week of practice a comeback for her after being out with an infected gland.

“LaNeisha is one of the most competitive kids on the team,” Buford-Bailey said. “She just wants to compete every week, so I think once the competition starts, she will be fine.”

Waller’s presence might be the motivation junior Nikkita Holder needs to take the next step toward reaching nationals. Holder finished first in the 60-meter hurdles at the Indiana Open two weeks ago and second last weekend.

“Nikkita is one who is wanting to go to indoor nationals at 60 hurdles,” Buford-Bailey said. “She will be competing with LaNeisha this weekend, so that should help her.”

Buford-Bailey also expects to see more improvement from some of their talented freshmen, including Cheria Morgan and Melissa Bates, who have had fast starts to their collegiate careers. Bates has not had much indoor track experience, coming from Texas, but the coaches expect her to continue to improve on the 200 meters and the triple jump.

“It’s a lot more intense, and the level of intensity of track meets are like every single race you run is like a final,” Morgan said.

“It’s a lot different than high school. I’ve been improving with good coaching, a lot of strengthening that I hadn’t been doing in high school as much and focusing on things I need improvement on.”

The Illini will use this meet as a step toward working the athletes up to full speed. Buford-Baily said Omoye Ugiagbe will not compete in her signature event, the 400 meters, and instead will work on her speed in shorter events. The team will also look to improve their 600-meter times by running Katie Engel, Briana Cunningham and Alondra Cooper.

Buford-Bailey expects sophomore transfer Aja Evans to continue improving on an already impressive season in the shot put.

They will continue to sit out their cross country runners, including Angela Bizzarri, until the meet at Notre Dame in February.

Also at the meet will be former Illini greats Yvonne Mensah who will be competing unattached in the pentathlon while Perdita Felicien will participate in the 60-meter hurdles.