Women take three invitational events

By Anthony Zilis

As the women’s track season comes to its climax with only one meet left before Big Ten Championships, one sports cliche comes to mind – the season is a marathon, not a sprint.

While sprinting events were the major strengths for the Illini early in the season, the distance runners are finally coming into form. The distance team came away with two of the three Illinois event titles this weekend at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational in Berkeley, Calif., with Angela Bizzarri winning the 5,000 meters and Rachel Hernandez winning the 1,500 meters.

Bizzarri came into her first-ever race in the 5,000 meters thinking she would stay with the pack. Her race didn’t go as planned.

“The first lap I was going to try to run with some people, but they ended up not being around,” said Bizzarri.

Bizzarri won the race by a spacious 48 seconds with a time of 16 minutes, 16 seconds, breaking the regional qualifying time by 35 seconds. Bizzarri now holds the second-fastest time in Illini history in the 5,000 meters. She also ranks second in program history in the 1,500 meters.

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!

Taking Bizzarri’s normal spot as the leading Illini in the 1,500, Hernandez ran a regional qualifying time of 4 minutes and 25 seconds, winning the race. Sophomore Katie Engel also regionally qualified, finishing right behind Hernandez for second place.

Alecia Beckford-Stewart said seeing the distance runners work hard and finally performing well helped the rest of the team.

“It’s really motivating to see everybody doing so well in practice and seeing it pay off in meets,” Beckford-Stewart said.

Associate head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey gave credit to distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen, who has his athletes reaching their prime at exactly the right time.

Sophomore Aja Evans was the other Illini who came away with an event title, winning the shot put with an outdoor personal-best 51 feet, seven inches. Evans, who had previously qualified for regionals, won the event by more than seven feet.

Even with such a resounding win, Evans is not satisfied.

“It was one of my best performances this season, but I should be throwing a little farther,” Evans said.

Although unhappy, Evans said the meet helped her get her confidence back, which had been lowered by subpar performances in previous meets.

While disappointed with their times, the duo of Tiara Armstrong and Cheria Morgan finished fourth and eight, respectively, in the 100 meters.

Other notable performers included senior Briana Cunningham, second in the 400-meter hurdles; LaNeisha Waller, who finished second in the 100-meter hurdles; the 4×100-meter relay team of Armstrong, Waller, Morgan and Melissa Bates, who finished second; Jessica Penney, second in the long jump; and Chantelle Groenewoud, who posted a regional qualifying mark in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

Beckford-Stewart said the young team is coming into form and adjusting its mentality.

“Nervousness got a hold of us early this season and now we’re more relaxed,” Beckford-Stewart said. “I think we’ll be very prepared for Big Tens.”