Women’s track to treat Orange and Blue Open as tune-up meet

The Illini women’s track and field team will have an opportunity to fine-tune its performances this weekend at it approaches the indoor championship portion of its schedule.

Illinois will host the Orange and Blue Open on Saturday, held at the Armory. The meet will feature a batch of competition that should allow for some athletes to get a much-needed rest and for others to take a look at what aspects of their performances can be improved.

“A lot of our athletes won’t even run just because they need a break after three hard weeks, including a travel week,” Illinois head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said. “If they do compete, it will probably only be in one event, specializing in one area, prior to us going out to (the) Tyson (Invitational) next weekend.”

Bailey plans to use the athletes who are available to compete this weekend in events they are less comfortable with. Specifically, freshman Asia Thomas will headline the 400 meters for the Illini this weekend with hopes that her improvement in recent performances will continue. She will provide a boost of youth for the squad as it moves on to bigger meets.

“(Thomas) improved by like three seconds last weekend, so we’re hoping this is another big weekend for her,” Buford-Bailey said. “Just getting her confidence up, being on the collegiate ranks was kind of tough for her in the beginning. So we’re hoping this is a big eye-opener for her, hopefully she can leave with a win.”

The Illinois hurdlers will face a unique challenge this weekend. Former Michigan athlete and nine-time Big Ten champion Tiffany Ofili-Porter, Texas A&M star senior Natasha Ruddock and No. 1-ranked Christina Manning from Ohio State will travel to Champaign to compete in the 60-meter hurdles.

“Our hurdlers are really hoping to run personal bests this weekend because we have a really stellar 60-meter hurdles race going on this weekend,” Bailey said.

Despite the condensed squad and added excitement regarding the participation of world-class hurdlers, the Illini are staying focused on the task at hand: improving and preparing for Big Tens.

“I really don’t come in with a different mindset,” Illinois sophomore Breeana Coleman said. “Meets that aren’t as big as Big Tens I really take serious because I really want to make sure I’m improving. I treat every meet like a Big Ten meet.”

Coming off victories in the 600 meters and 4×400 meter relay last weekend at Nebraska’s Mark Colligan Memorial Invitational, the Illini are planning to build on those performances, and get their speed to the same place as the Big Ten elite.

“We were thinking about taking a portion of that group to the Meyo Invitational, but we’re not going to do that now, so they’ll run here,” Buford-Bailey said. “I think we focused a bit more on the speed end of it and trying to get the speed up in the distance events.”