Bizzarri sets school record

Sophomore Tamika Robinson finishes the 60-meter hurdles at the Carle/Health Alliance Invite at the Armory on Jan. 24. Robinson finished third to two Olympians and qualified for the NCAA Championships on Saturday. Erica Magda

Sophomore Tamika Robinson finishes the 60-meter hurdles at the Carle/Health Alliance Invite at the Armory on Jan. 24. Robinson finished third to two Olympians and qualified for the NCAA Championships on Saturday. Erica Magda

By Kevin Kaplan

Going into the first meet of the season, the big question was whether Illinois track and field sophomore Angela Bizzarri would be able to improve upon last year’s phenomenal season.

At Saturday’s Meyo Invitational in South Bend, Ind., Bizzarri looked well on her way to answering that question, automatically qualifying for the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 3,000 meters and setting a new school record of 9 minutes, 11.62 seconds in a third-place finish.

Bizzarri’s time lowered Illinois’ school record by 3.54 seconds and was 11.4 seconds faster than her own previous personal best.

“Whenever she gets in a race and has a chance to compete, she does well,” Illinois distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen said. “What she’s done on the track in practice led me to believe she could run 9:15 or under, so it was really no surprise.”

While Bizzarri is picking up where she left off from last year, some of Illinois’ less experienced sprinters found similar successes on Saturday at the Rod McCravy Memorial Meet in Lexington, Ky., where an Illini split squad also competed.

Sophomore Tamika Robinson provisionally qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 60-meter hurdles with a personal-best time of 8.37. She finished third to two Olympians, including Hyleas Fountain, who won the silver medal in the heptathlon for the United States at the 2008 Olympics. Rather than unnerving Robinson, the world-class competition provided an environment in which the sprinter thrived.

“I just looked at it as another race, stayed focused on my lane and not anybody else’s,” Robinson said. “I knew I had a girl in the race that was way faster than me … I had to think about my own race.”

Robinson’s performance raised the eyebrows of the Illinois coaching staff.

“I’m just really impressed for someone that’s a sophomore, being so young and just starting to get comfortable with the event,” Illini head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said.

A mixture of youth and experience was present in Illinois’ final provisionally qualifying time from the weekend. Senior Deserea Brown, sophomore Melissa Bates, freshman Ryisha Boyd and senior Omoye Ugiagbe made up the provisionally qualifying 4×400 meter relay that placed second to Western Kentucky with a time of 3:39.90.

The Illini will next compete at the ISU Classic in Ames, Iowa on Feb. 13-14.

Illinois men’s track and field senior Gakologelwang Masheto had two goals heading into this weekend’s New Balance Invitational in New York City. He wanted not only to win the 500 meters but also to beat the NCAA record that he set in the same meet last year. On Friday, however, he was only able to accomplish one.

While Masheto did win the race handily with a time of one minute, 2.11, he came up short of last year’s record-setting time of 1:00.82. Even though he didn’t break his own record, he did leave the vast majority of his competition in the dust, with 55 of the 69 runners finishing slower than 1:05.

Illinois head coach Wayne Angel believed that Masheto’s dominant performance came from the type of matchups that were present. While most of his 500-meters competition specialized in distances of 200 or 400 meters, Masheto specializes in distances of 400 or 800 meters, and Angel believes that Masheto is more suited for the 500 meters.

“He’s a 400-800 type guy so he has the strength to really push a fast pace and not die at the end,” Angel said.

Masheto was happy with his overall performance from the weekend.

“It went pretty well,” Masheto said. “I did three events in two days and I was feeling good afterwards. I didn’t feel like I was tired or something like that.”

The heavy schedule that Masheto mentioned was Angel’s point of emphasis for the meet as a whole.

“I think the momentum that we gained from this meet was exactly what I wanted,” Angel said. “What I did was get a dress rehearsal for the Big Ten meet. They’re strong and they’re fit and we’re going to look for them (to be) at that level.”

However, Angel made it clear that some areas are still a work in progress, notably the field and distance events.

“If we’re going to be a top-five team in the Big Ten, there are still quite a few areas that we need to work on and that’s what we’re doing right now,” Angel said.