Women’s track looks to place at Nationals

By Daniel Johnson

While most students were in classes yesterday and today, a group of students were preparing for national championship contention roughly 700 miles away in Fayetteville, Ark. They might not be in class, but they will be doing plenty of work nevertheless.

At noon on Thursday, Tiara Armstrong, Mariesa Greene, Yvonne Mensah, Omoye Ugiagbe, LaNeisha Waller and Carlene and Camile Robinson took to the Tyson Center floor to try to bring back a women’s track and field National Championship.

Assistant coach Tonja Buford-Bailey knows that it will be extremely hard to do so, especially since the Illini are only competing in five events. Despite the amount of talent at the meet, there is a chance for most any team to, if not win, place extremely well.

“Most meets you need at least 120 points to win,” Buford-Bailey said. “(At) Nationals you only need 40 points to win. There is a lot of competition, and deep teams like LSU, Tennessee and Michigan have a lot of depth to them. We’re looking to just continue to do what we have been doing and try to take some events.”

One of the athletes that looks to contribute is Waller. The junior has been plagued by injuries this year, but qualified for the 60-meter hurdles indoor championship. She had suffered a stress fracture in the past that has led to aggressive and chronic shin splints. She has endured, though, and qualified in an event that isn’t even considered her best.

“LaNeisha really is a long jumper first,” Buford-Bailey said. “She can only train for about one-forth of the time that most can because of her shin. We’ve tried everything to try and improve it, but not much seems to work. We’re really proud of her and excited not only for the hurdles, but also to see her get back to possibly jumping in the outdoor season.”

Five of the other athletes: Armstrong, Mensah, Ugiagbe and the Robinsons will take place in the 4×400-meter relay. The relay team has come on strong as of late and posted their best time of the season, 3:36.20 seconds, last week in Ames, Iowa. The time was a welcomed performance, as it likely solidified their place in the Championships.

Mensah has had an outstanding senior campaign, including qualifying for NCAA Indoor long jump, triple jump, 60-meter dash and relay championships. Mensah was also named Field Athlete of the Championships for the second-consecutive year two weeks ago at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.

“What Yvonne did at the Big Tens was probably the best overall individual performance I have seen here,” head coach Gary Winckler said. “She has had her best indoor season this year and is all over our record books now.”