Illini of the Week: Danelle Woods

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Anthony Zilis

Heading into her first collegiate race in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the Sun Angel Track Classic in Tempe, Ariz., Danelle Woods thought she knew what to expect.

“Coach set out a specific plan,” Woods said. “I was just to go out easy, at like a 10:20 pace for the first 2K, and then I was supposed to go faster for the last two laps.”

But on Saturday, confusion got in the way of her plan.

Rounding what she thought was the final turn of the event, her teammates cheered her on excitedly. Woods crossed the line in first place, only to realize the race was not over.

“They actually miscounted our laps during the race, and so a lap early they rang the bell (to signify the final lap),” Woods said.

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Woods stopped before she was alerted of the mistake.

“I stopped for about three seconds; thought I was done,” said Woods. “Tonja, our sprint coach, yelled from the stands, ‘you’ve got another lap left,’ so I had to keep going.”

The freshman regrouped and finished the race, winning by four seconds with a time of 10:22.36.

Woods set the meet record and now ranks second in Illini history in the event. Perhaps even more impressively, Woods broke the regional qualifying time by an astonishing 28 seconds.

Distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen was not surprised about the accomplishment.

“She’s had quite a bit of experience in the steeplechase,” Rasmussen said. “It’s always good to see her get off on a good foot.”

Woods is no stranger to winning races and breaking records. She won the event last year at the Pan Am Junior Championships, broke the Canadian National Meet record and set the junior Canadian record three times.

“Breaking barriers just seems to be my niche, I guess,” Woods said.

While Woods is happy about her standing in Illinois history, she strives for more.

“That’s really exciting. I mean, hopefully I will eventually be ranked first,” Woods said. “It’s going to be really hard because that’s a really good record.”

The exciting part for the Illini is that Saturday wasn’t even Woods’ best race – she clocked a time nine second faster at the Pan Am Championships.

Speaking about the steeplechase, Woods sounds more like a seasoned veteran than a true freshman.

“I feel really confident always going into it,” Woods said with well-deserved pride. “I don’t even know who my competition is half the time. So it’s like, ‘Yeah, I can do this, this is my race.'”

Even with such a dominant performance behind her, Woods recognizes that the level of competition in college is greater than anything she has ever run against.

“In high school, it was just kind of, you run on your own and you’re the one pushing the pace,” Woods said. “But here, there’s, like, 10 girls right beside you. I wasn’t used to having so many people around me.”

Rasmussen says that Saturday’s race is just the beginning of what could be something special.

“She’s going to do some unbelievable things that maybe people here have never seen before,” Rasmussen said.

He emphasized, though, that nothing has been handed to the budding star.

For Woods, this record-breaking day is just the start of what she already knew she could do.

“Finally, I felt like that race was the beginning of me coming into myself and running up where I should be and where I want to be.”

Illini of the Week honorable mention

Megan Fudge- Women’s tennis

On Sunday, the sophomore star led the Illini to their biggest upset of the season against No. 33 Ohio State. Fudge stole a crucial break point in her doubles match with junior Shivani Dave, as the duo won 9-7 to secure the doubles point for Illinois. At the No. 1 singles spot, Fudge defeated the Buckeyes’ Angela DiPastina, 6-4, 6-1.

Allison Buckley- Women’s gymnastics

As only a freshman, Buckley earned an individual bid to the NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga. last weekend at the South Central Regional Championship. She garnered a spot after finishing as one of the top two all-around competitors on a non-qualifying team.Following the meet, Buckley was named Regional Gymnnast of the Year, the first ever Illini to receive the award.