Women’s track team well rested going into meet

By Kevin Olsen

With only two meets left before the Big Ten Championship, the Illinois women’s track and field team will compete at full strength for the first time this season. It will mark the first meet for athletes that ran cross country, including two-time cross country All-American Angela Bizzarri.

After having last week off, the Illini will travel to the highly competitive Meyo Invitational at Notre Dame to prepare for a late-season run heading into the Big Ten and nationals. Aja Evans and Alicia Beckford-Stewart have already provisionally qualified for nationals in the shot put and pentathlon, respectively.

Bizzarri will be making her debut this weekend in the mile and the distance medley relay, or DMR. She will have only two meets to participate in before the Big Ten Championship, but she said she is ready and feels like the extra rest will help her.

“We want to try to qualify for nationals eventually,” Bizzarri said about her DMR team. “So we want to run somewhere near that standard … I think everyone’s ready to go.”

Coach Gary Winckler has increased the intensity in practices since the Illini’s last meet. The team has prepared for the stretch run by working on correcting mistakes in hopes of being mentally and physically prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

Illinois will be running their athletes in their best events on their quest to add more provisional qualifiers. That will include junior Omoye Ugiagbe, who will be competing in her best event, the 400 meters, for only the second time this season. She will also be part of the DMR team with Bizzarri and will participate in the 4×400 relay team if Winckler decides to field a relay team.

“Every 400 meter I do, the better I become because I’m getting more experience, I make mistakes and I have more time to get better at them,” Ugiagbe said. “At the Big Ten, I should be ready. Now, I’m looking forward to dropping my time this weekend.”

Other athletes competing in their best events include Beckford-Stewart in the long jump, senior LaNeisha Waller in the 60-meter hurdles and long jump, and senior Tiara Armstrong in the 60- and 200-meters. Junior Nikkita Holder will look to extend her success in her event, the 60-meter hurdles, as will senior Amanda Pintaro, who has finished first in the pole vault the last two competitions.

The Meyo Invitational begins Friday at 4 p.m. and will conclude Saturday afternoon.

“I feel like the team as a whole is ready for this meet,” Ugiagbe said. “We had a week off and we’ve had enough time to recover. We’ve been practicing like crazy, so I think everybody should be ready. This should be a good meet. We’ve had enough time to be mentally prepared and know what we need to do.”