Young Illini ready for NCAAs



By Daniel Johnson

In 1986, first-year Illinois coach Gary Winckler headed to Nationals with the University after coming from Florida State.

Winckler produced a 4×400 All-American relay team of mostly underclassmen in his first year.

In 2008, Winckler will head to Nationals with another young team in his final year as a head coach.

“We’re a fairly young group going in there, other than (seniors) Briana (Cunningham) and LaNeisha (Waller,)” Winckler said. “We don’t have the same expectations that we had last year going to Nationals, but we’re still going to be optimistic about our girls’ chances.”

Cunningham and sophomore Aja Evans were at-large selections announced by the NCAA on June 3 and will compete in the 400-meter dash and the shot put, respectively.

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Joining them will be Angela Bizzari, a sophomore, in the 5,000-meter run. Waller will compete in the her second championship in as many years in the 100-meter dash, the same event that she participated in last year. Freshmen Danelle Woods and Chantelle Groenewoud will each compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. All four earned automatic berths to Nationals after finishing in the top five of their respective events at Regionals.

“We don’t really have too many people ranked too high going into this, “Winckler said. “I think that there are several of them in the top eight, though. LaNeisha and Aja are up there, Angela certainly has that kind of ability, but the goal right now, for everyone, is to get to the final day.”

Regardless of rank, age or any other factor, Winckler is still treating his final run at Nationals like any other.

“It’s just another national meet, you want to compete hard and to make the best of your ability,” he said. “In most cases, you really can’t look ahead too much to these, it’s more about where the athletes are at when we get there.”

When asked if he thought he could reproduce some of the magic from his first Nationals run with a team similar to the ’86 team, Winckler laughed.

“We’ll see,” he said.