Freshman sets meet record; team qualifies 11 for regional

By Anthony Zilis

Before Saturday, Danelle Woods had never run the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the collegiate level. But that didn’t stop the freshman from winning the event and setting a meet record on Saturday at the Sun Angel Track Classic in Tempe, Ariz.

Woods was just one of nine Illini who set 11 regional qualifying marks at Saturday’s meet.

“It was a good meet for us,” head coach Gary Winckler said. “As a team we’re exceeding expectations for this time of the season.”

Running a time of 10 minutes, 22.36 seconds, Woods now ranks second in Illini history in the event to Cassie Hunt, who holds the record at 9:55.75.

“I think she’s a very good competitor because she has so much confidence,” senior Tiara Armstrong said of Woods. “I think she did a great job going out there and fighting for it.”

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Running a time of 4:19.95 in the 1,500 meters, Angela Bizzarri now also ranks second in school history in the event. She finished sixth overall on Saturday.

While Bizzarri is only two seconds away from setting the Illini record in the 1,500, she insists her focus is not on breaking records. When told about her standing in Illinois history, she reacted with surprise.

“I was not really concentrating on that,” Bizzarri said. “I’m just concentrating on improving on last year’s time.”

While Bizzarri and Woods were making history, Armstrong and junior Omoye Ugiagbe were concentrating on regionally qualifying in their own events.

Armstrong, who had already qualified in the 200 meters, set a season-best 11.72 in the 100 meters, finishing third and regionally qualifying.

“I’m just glad I got that out of the way early,” Armstrong said of qualifying.

Ugiagbe regionally qualified in the 200 meters but failed to do the same in her marquee event, the 400 meters, missing out on the time by one-hundredth of a second.

“She’s really been working hard in practice,” said Armstrong. “I have no doubt she will get that time.”

LaNeisha Waller followed up her Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week honor with a strong showing, finishing fourth in the 100-meter hurdles in 13.27, a new season best. She also finished fourth in the 4×100 meters along with Armstrong, Analisa Austin and Ugiagbe, with a season-best time of 45.19.

Other impressive performers included Jessica Penney, fifth in the long jump at 19 feet, 9 1/2 inches; Rachel Hernandez, fourth in the 800 meters with a time of 2:08.62; and Aja Evans, fifth in the shot put with a throw of 49 feet, 11 1/4 inches. All three recorded regional qualifying marks, with Hernandez and Penney reaching the mark for the first time this season.

Bizzarri thinks this is just the beginning for an Illini team that has its mind set on getting better.

“We’re really pumped up and improving,” Bizzarri said. “I hope this will carry us through the next couple of meets leading up to Big Tens.”