Women’s track finishes strong in hurdles at Kansas Relays, winning two event titles

By Anthony Zilis

With a coach who participated in the 400-meter hurdles in three different Olympics, winning a bronze medal in one, it is no surprise the hurdles were a strong point this weekend for the Illinois women’s track and field team at the Kansas Relays in Lawrence, Kan.

The Illini finished in the top six in three hurdle events, winning two. Senior Briana Cunningham, who won the 400-meter hurdles, thinks she owes some of her success to her associate head coach, Tonja Buford-Bailey.

“I think she really helps me a lot being able to relate to me and explain the best way for me to run my race,” said Cunningham of the former Olympian.

Cunningham said she finished well but didn’t run flawlessly.

“It gives me a lot of confidence, especially when I know I made some mistakes and knowing I could do better,” the senior said.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Adding to Cunningham’s performance was LaNeisha Waller, who finished sixth in the Invitational Division of the 100-meter hurdles, which included professional runners. The shuttle hurdle relay team of Nikkita Holder, Tamika Robinson, Jessica Penney and Waller won its event.

Alecia Beckford-Stewart also used a strong third-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles to propel her to a sixth-place finish in the heptathlon.

The hurdles weren’t the team’s only strong events over the weekend, as Danelle Woods followed up a record-breaking performance last week in the 3000-meter steeplechase with a fourth-place finish in the 1500 meters with a regional qualifying time of four minutes and 26.64 seconds. She said the event will help her in her marquee event, the steeplechase.

“You’ve got to have quick turnover at the end of any race,” Woods said. “The 1500 will help me in the final kick (of the steeplechase.)”

Meanwhile, Penney had her best performance of the season in the long jump, finishing sixth with a jump of 20 feet, two and a half inches.

Other strong performers included senior Tiara Armstrong, who finished fifth in the Invitational Division of the 100 meters with a time of 11.70; the 4×200 team of Armstrong, freshmen Melissa Bates and Cheria Morgan, and junior Omoye Ugiagbe took third.

Ugiagbe, who has narrowly missed regionally qualifying in the 400 meters the last few meets, was unable to run the event due to a minor injury. Buford-Bailey called this a minor setback.

Buford-Bailey also stressed the progression her team has made as a whole.

She said of the young group, “they’re starting to adjust from the indoor season and they’re constantly getting better.”