Women hope to qualify at Sun Angel Classic



By Anthony Zilis

The athletes on the women’s track and field team have been hearing one thing from their coaches while preparing for the Sun Angel Track Classic in Tempe, Ariz., this weekend, the first meet in which the Illini will send their full team.

“Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – that’s all the coaches have been telling us,” said junior Omoye Ugiagbe.

Even with the temperatures forecasted to reach 90 degrees this weekend, associate head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said the team can add to the seven regional qualifying times it has already registered this season.

While Buford-Bailey expects freshmen Cheria Morgan, Analisa Austin and Melissa Bates to qualify, her highest hopes are for Ugiagbe, who will be competing in the 400 meters.

“Omoye is the key person we’re expecting to qualify this weekend,” Buford-Bailey said.

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Ugiagbe, who narrowly missed regionally qualifying a few weeks ago, said the increased level of competition will help her meet her goal.

Already having regionally qualified in the 200 meters, senior Tiara Armstrong hopes to qualify in the 100 meters this weekend. Armstrong said the high level of competition the team will face this weekend, including five teams ranked in the top 25, will help the athletes run their best.

“I think it should be good competition for all of us,” Armstrong said. “We’re really looking at qualifying for regionals and being able to bring down our times.”

One athlete who does not have to worry about regionally qualifying is senior LaNeisha Waller, last week’s Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week. Waller qualified for regionals in the 100-meter hurdles and the long jump, but Buford-Bailey said Waller needs to continue improving.

“You want to go into the regional competition in a really good position,” Buford-Bailey said. “That’s a confidence thing, too; the faster your time is going into the regional is always a plus.”

This week also marks the first outdoor meet for sophomore distance runner Angela Bizzarri, who qualified for the NCAA Championships last year. Bizzarri will run the 1,500 meters and the 5,000 meters this weekend.

As always, a priority for the team will be to continue to develop its young talent.

“It’s definitely a different level from what they’re used to,” Armstrong said of the seven freshmen that are competing on Saturday. “As the season goes from indoor to outdoor, I can definitely see more maturity in the younger runners.”

Buford-Bailey believes that competing against some of the best teams in the nation will make the young Illini team eager to reach greater heights.

“When you see the level and the caliber of athletes that are at a national level, it makes you aspire to want to get to that level. Just being in an environment with the top athletes in the country is motivation enough.”