Illinois women’s track set for Big Ten Championships

The Illini women’s track and field team will finally get its chance at redemption this weekend.

Illinois will travel to Lincoln, Neb., to compete in the Big Ten Indoor Championships. Last year, it had a disappointing seventh-place finish, scoring only 61 team points. The Illini have been adamant about their improvement this season over last year and plan to prove it this weekend.

“The goal for us is to score more points than we did last year, finish higher, get some Big Ten champions out of it,” head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said. “We left the Big Ten meet last year with no Big Ten champions, and that’s important for the kids and a big deal for the team.”

One of the Illini’s top performers this season has been senior Ryisha Boyd. Her highlight this season came when she won the 600 meters with a time of 1 minute, 31.72 seconds, at the Mark Colligan Memorial Invitational, held at the same venue in Lincoln as this weekend’s meet. However, Boyd suffered a hamstring injury last week during training, and her status for the weekend has yet to be decided.

“She was one of our biggest scorers individually, so we’re just trying to get her back and get her out there this weekend and perform well, but we’re just not sure,” Buford-Bailey said.

The Illini will look for other event areas to step up and fill the hole left by the injured Boyd. Illinois, a sprint-heavy team, will look to the field and distance events to score the points needed to land them toward the top of the leaderboard.

“We have some big holes, so right now we have to count on our sprinters to come up,” Buford-Bailey said. “Because that’s the area we’re strongest in right now, if we could get some things going here and there in other events areas that would be really important, but our sprinters are definitely going to have to come through, there’s no negotiating that.”

With No. 10 Ohio State, No. 16 Wisconsin and No. 24 Michigan State competing at Nebraska’s state-of-the-art track facility, the Big Ten Championships will receive national attention this weekend. The Illini are aware that the atmosphere will be different from any other meet they’ve seen this season and have adjusted their mindset accordingly.

“I think everybody does go in with a different mindset, because we all expect to just perform the best way we can,” sophomore Breeana Coleman said.

The Illini have been training since August to fully prepare for this meet, and all they have left to do is put forth the confident performance that they’ve talked about all season.

“In my mind, the hay is in the barn,” Buford-Bailey said. “So there’s nothing we can do between now and then that’s going to make any changes.”