Women’s track and field faced toughest competition yet in Tyson Invitational

The Illinois women’s track and field squad continued to improve this past weekend, breaking some school records along the way.

The Illini traveled to Fayetteville, Ark., to compete in the Tyson Invitational, where they faced their toughest competition of the season so far. Against teams like Louisiana State, Kansas, Texas and Auburn, the Orange and Blue got a chance to see how they will stack up against high-caliber competition when they travel to Lincoln, Neb., for the Big Ten Championships in two weeks.

During Friday’s events, the Illini saw two school records broken by underclassmen. Freshman Ashley Spencer broke the 400 meters school record with a time of 53.45 seconds. The record time was good enough for seventh place in the event.

“With yesterday (Friday), the highlight would have been Ashley Spencer in the 400,” Illinois head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said. “She broke a school record as a freshman, which is pretty significant.”

Illini sophomore Stephanie Richartz broke the pole vault school record for the fifth time this year in as many meets. Her jump of 4.22 meters was good enough for second place in the event, behind Arkansas senior Tina Sutej’s vault of 4.30 meters.

“I think everybody is improving each week, and I think we’re doing pretty well in preparations for Big Tens,” sophomore Breeana Coleman said.

Coleman qualified for the finals of the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.32, while her sophomore teammate Jesica Ejesieme put up the same time in the prelims, but did not advance out of her heat.

“There was a personal best for Jesica Ejesime, 8.32, that they both ran in the 60 hurdles, which is number three and four in the Big Ten right now,” Buford-Bailey said.

The 4×400 meter relay squad of senior Ryisha Boyd, Ashley Kelly, Ejesieme and Spencer crossed the finish line in 3 minutes, 36.20 seconds, the third fastest time in school history.

“This is probably the fastest time we’ve ever run in the 4×400 at this time of the year,” Buford-Bailey said.

The Illini distance crew showed improvement as well, with strong performances in the 800 meters and the mile. Sophomore Katie Porada finished the mile in a time of 4:46.33, landing her in third place in the event. Junior Madeline Aufmann finished eighth and nearly set a new personal best in the 800 with a time of 2:14.39.

“I think Katie Porada ran about a 10-second personal best in the mile, so that was really big for her,” Buford-Bailey said.

The Illini had a disappointing seventh-place finish at last year’s Big Ten Championships, but still have competed this season with the attitude that they’re no longer the same team.