Illini women finish fourth at conference tournament

By Daniel Johnson

While it was hardly the same result as last year’s Big Ten Outdoor Championship, head coach Gary Winckler was pleased with his team’s fourth-place finish in what will be his final time coaching the event.

“I’m very realistic with my team, that doesn’t mean I’m not expecting them to do something that they are beyond capable of doing; but you can’t go into a Championship and say, ‘We’re going here to win this thing,’ when you know you’ve got no chance in heck of getting it,” Winckler said during the meet. “There are three very old, mature teams here (Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State) and we know that they are going to be the teams vying for the title.”

Winckler’s thoughts on the trio came to fruition when Penn State, Michigan and Minnesota finished in first, second and third, respectively.

“I am glad with what we achieved today,” Winckler said after the meet. “There are some things that we could do a little better, but we got some positive things that we weren’t expecting in a couple of events, too. When you look at the gap between third and fourth, you can see the experience. But overall, things played out the way we expected them too.”

Winckler’s athletes were also aware that the competition would be stiff but, nevertheless, expected to do well.

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“Even if you aren’t getting the exact result that you might want, it’s important that you’re still trying,” senior Briana Cunningham said. “We did that today, and we got a very, very good result.”

Illinois’ bright spots came from Cunningham’s 400-meter hurdle win, Aja Evans shot put title, Angela Bizzarri’s second-place finish in the 5000 meters, among others.

“It was more of a tactical race, it came down to a sprint at the end,” Bizzarri said of the finish. “I was really happy with how it finished and the way we performed as a team.”

The meet marks Winckler’s final time coaching a Big Ten Championship meet, as he will be retiring at season’s end. When asked about what it was like to be in that situation, he was candid and hopeful about it.

“I’ve done this for 34 years, maybe it’s time to try some other things,” Winckler said. “But I like where we are finishing as a team, and I am very confident with who I am leaving the program with (current assistant coach Tonja Buford-Bailey), and we have things started to continue to excel as a program.”