COLUMN: Coach keeps Illini on track

By Anthony Zilis

Favorite story

It has to be the Illini of the Week story on Danelle Woods. I really didn’t know much about her before the story, but she set the meet record in her first college steeplechase race and is second in Illini history. In the interview, I found out that she stopped a lap early because they miscounted the lap, and she didn’t realize the race was still going for three seconds. This was the first time I realized I was with world-class athletes.

Best game I covered

Unfortunately, I was only able to attend one track meet because only one was at home, the Illinois Twilight, but it was pretty interesting. I did track in high school, so I knew what the meet would be all about, but I had never seen athletes of this caliber before.

Play of the year

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Danelle Woods stopping a lap early for three seconds in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, then regrouping to win the race by four seconds.

Best quote

This quote is good enough for a Hallmark card.

Head coach Gary Winckler, who will retire at the end of the season:

“Success is something that you can create and you can plan for and I always tell my athletes, ‘The biggest difference between those people that are successful and those that aren’t are that the successful people are the ones that are willing to do the little things that the others aren’t,’ so I just try to instill that in them to help them better prepare for their futures.”

I know … deep.

Best interview

Gary Winckler. I didn’t get to talk to him until later in the season; I guess he was always too busy or just didn’t feel like talking, so it’s safe to say I was unsure about how it would go. He was friendly and gave me some of the best quotes I’ve ever gotten (though I’ve only been working a few months). We talked for about a half-hour and it only seemed like five minutes; that’s how you know it was a good interview.

Most telling off-the-field moment

I’d have to say the time I called the team on the bus and everyone I wanted to talk to was asleep, or at least they said they were …

Story line for ’08-’09

Can the underclassmen step it up? Sprinters Analisa Austin, Cheria Morgan and Alecia Beckford-Stewart have all had solid years. Sophomore Aja Evans now holds the Illini record in the shot put. Sophomore Angela Bizzarri is second in Illini history in the 1,500 and the 5,000, and Danelle Woods is second in Illini history in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. If the kids can step it up, we could be in for an exciting season.