Women’s track and field set for showdown with UCF

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

The Illinois women’s track and field team will fly down to Orlando, Florida, this weekend to take on the University of Central Florida.

Other schools were originally scheduled to compete at the meet, but they have since dropped out, and the Illini will have a chance to see how they match up against a similar UCF team.

“We match up pretty well (with UCF),” head coach Ron Garner said. “They are pretty good in the sprints, hurdles, jumps and the middle distances. It’ll be a good tune-up for us. Then we’ll have a week off, followed by a home meet, and then we’ll travel to Drake ready to roll.”

Garner said that he was pleased with the team’s performances in the outdoor season thus far, but he wants the team to show the same energy later in meets that they display earlier in meets.

“We came out a little flat the second day (against Vanderbilt and Eastern Illinois). We have to find that second day, or that second round of being able to come back with the same energy.”

One group that Garner has been very pleased with so far is the hurdlers. Under assistant coach Randy Gillon, freshman Jayla Stewart and junior Kortni Smyers-Jones have both shown consistent improvement over the course of the outdoor season, culminating in last week’s race. Last week, despite winds of up to 35 miles per hour, both Stewart and Smyers-Jones set personal bests in the 100-meter hurdles. Gillon said the key to the team’s consistency and improvement has been attention to detail.

“There are a few things you need to do well to do well in the hurdles, and we’re just trying to lock in to those things,” Gillon said. Stewart and Smyers-Jones both echoed that sentiment.

The hurdlers should get a boost this weekend with the return of sophomore Pedrya Seymour, who was given a prolonged rest period after an extended indoor season that took her to the NCAA Indoor Championships and the IAAF Indoor World Championships. Gillon has high hopes for how far Seymour and the rest of the hurdlers can go this season.

“A goal of mine is to put all three of them into the Big Ten final,” Gillon said. “Pedrya has the capacity to win the Big Ten, and Jayla also could end up on the podium. Beyond that, we are looking at going to nationals to see what we can do there; the sky is the limit.”

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