Last chance pays off for relay team

By Kevin Olsen

Sometimes, the last chance can be the best chance. For the Illinois women’s track and field team, this weekend’s last-chance meet at Notre Dame produced a distance medley relay team that will be competing at the NCAA Indoor Nationals next week.

The relay team of Danelle Woods, Omoye Ugiagbe, Angela Bizzarri and Rachel Hernandez shattered the school record and just missed an NCAA automatic qualifying time. They finished the race in 11 minutes, 9.09 seconds to take the event and finish with the sixth-fastest time in the country this year.

“We got a time we thought this team was capable of running all year,” head coach Gary Winckler said. “It was just a matter of getting everyone together on the same day and getting it done.”

The relay team just missed the automatic qualifying time of 11:09:00 but is still in line for a berth to Nationals. The previous school record was 11:26.71 set by the same four athletes on Feb. 8, also at Notre Dame.

“We’re going to be running the race fresh,” Winckler said about next week’s meet. “I think this team will run close to the same time or a little better.”

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Aja Evans will most likely also compete at Nationals next weekend in Fayetteville, Ark. Evans is the school record-holder in the shot put, and Winckler believes she has a good enough mark to earn a spot at nationals.

“It’s real big because it’s very tough to get into this meet and to get in there in your first two years is a really nice accomplishment,” Winckler said about sophomores Evans and Bizzarri going to Nationals. “It’s good for the program and it’s certainly good for them to help their confidence, and it’s something you can really build on.”

As for senior LaNeisha Waller, she improved her provisional qualifying mark this weekend with a time of 8.26 seconds but may be just outside the necessary rankings to continue her indoor season. She will have to wait until the field is announced Monday to see if her 60-meter hurdles time will be good enough. Waller finished 11th in the hurdles a year ago at Nationals.

The men did not fare as well in their last-chance meet at Iowa State, and it does not look like they will advance any athletes to next weekend’s NCAA Indoor Nationals.

Sophomore Dominique Worsley was again able to provisionally qualify, winning in the 60-meter dash, but the mark was not an improvement on his school-record time of 6.72 seconds that he set a week earlier. It does not appear that he will be ranked high enough to earn a spot.

Senior Nick Brown also did not improve on his triple jump mark and is likely to miss out on going to Nationals. Illinois’ lone guaranteed qualifier, Gakologelwang Masheto in the 400 meters, is sitting out the rest of the indoor season to heal his injured foot.

Also competing this weekend for the men were Gary Miller, Brian Beaird and Scott Phelps in the 800 meters, where all three men set personal bests. Miller finished seventh with Beaird right behind him in eighth and Phelps in 12th. Mike Murray also ran a personal-best time of 4:09.03 in the mile to finish 15th.