Armstrong leads Illinois to sixth at Indoors

By Kevin Olsen

It was supposed to be a learning experience for the young athletes on Illinois’ women’s track and field team. That stipulation did not apply to senior leader Tiara Armstrong at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in Minneapolis.

Armstrong left nothing behind in leading the Illini to a sixth-place finish. She was the only Illini to win an event, taking the 60 meters in a provisional qualifying time of 7.41 seconds, which was her personal best in the event. The senior edged Michigan’s Tiffany Ofili by one-hundredth of a second.

Armstrong also took third in the 200 meters in a time of 24.47 seconds. Her two performances gave the Illini their only top-three finishes in the meet. Armstrong was also part of the 4×400 relay team that took eighth place.

“Tiara competed very well,” head coach Gary Winckler said in a press release. “To win the 60 meters and get third in the 200 meters is a great day for her.”

Winckler knew going into the weekend that the meet was going to largely be a learning experience for a team stocked with freshmen and sophomores. Many underclassmen turned in strong performances for an Illinois team that finished with 47 points. Host Minnesota won the Big Ten with 136 points, edging out Michigan (128).

“We pretty much accomplished what we could expect out of the day,” Winckler said. “This meet was a learning experience for our young team and now we’re going to start getting ready for outdoor season.”

Sophomore Angela Bizzarri was another star for the Illini, provisionally qualifying in both the mile and the 3,000 meters. The two-time cross country All-American finished fifth in the finals of both events. Bizzarri’s time of nine minutes and 23.02 seconds in the 3,000 meters marked the second-fastest time in school history, ranking her behind ex-Illini Cassie Hunt.

Freshman Jessica Penney took fifth in the long jump in her first Big Ten Championships appearance. She finished with a mark of 19 feet, 5 1/2 inches.

After finishing second and first in the past two Big Ten Indoor Championships, respectively, senior LaNeisha Waller ran the 60-meter hurdles in a provisional qualifying time of 8.42 seconds to finish fifth.

Other Illini that scored include the sixth-place distance medley relay team of Shannon Phelan, Brianna Cunningham, Rachel Hernandez and Liz Mengyan. Freshman Cheria Morgan finished seventh in the 60 meters. Illinois shot put record-holder Aja Evans finished ninth. Rachel Hernandez finished sixth in the 800 meters.

The Illini will head to Iowa State next week for a last chance qualifying meet before indoor Nationals.