Illini of the Week: Angela Bizzarri

Angela Bizzarri likes to run.

“I really like working out in general,” Bizzarri said. “I like being able to go outside of your door and go on a long run. On sunny days it’s just gorgeous, and it’s honestly relaxing. I know that sounds weird, but if you do it every day, your body’s really adjusted to doing it.”

Bizzarri also likes to win — something she has done often during her time at Illinois.

In placing fourth in the 3,000 meters at last weekend’s NCAA Track and Field Indoor Championships, Bizzarri picked up the sixth All-America accolade of her career heading into the outdoor season.

The successful Indoor Championship was just another step in the career of the junior from Mason, Ohio, who is one of Illinois’ most accomplished athletes of all time. It will be tough for Bizzarri to match last year’s NCAA runner-up performance in the outdoor 5,000 meters, but she is on pace to make a statement in the outdoor season.

“Now that the indoor season is over, she is a little bit in front of where we originally thought she might be,” Illinois distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen said. “One nice thing about this year, compared to last year, is that she’s been able to have a lot of consistency in her training. If we can continue to have consistency in training, I think she’s going to continue to see bigger and bigger jumps.”

The improvement in her times since last year was the most positive thing that Bizzarri took out of the indoor season.

“I think the main thing I’m happy with is that I know I’m in a lot better shape right now than I was last year at this time,” Bizzarri said. “I guess that makes me really excited to see how I can do in outdoors. I was really happy with how I did last year, so if I’m feeling better at this point than I was last year, it just makes me really excited.”

According to Rasmussen, Bizzarri’s improvements during the outdoor season will happen not necessarily with her places in races but with times.

“My main goal is just to better my time from last year,” Bizzarri said. “It’s hard to ever say where anyone’s going to be so I try not to set too many place-goals.”

However, there is one place-goal that Rasmussen has in mind for her.

“Anytime somebody can come in and do very well at the national meet, it’s obviously an added bonus, but I think the biggest thing for us is trying to get Angela a Big Ten Championship, that’s kind of going to be the goal of the outdoor season for sure,” Rasmussen said.

While running has always been a big part of Bizzarri’s life — she started running four to five days a week in middle school — she recognizes the importance of academics as well.

Majoring in molecular and cellular biology, Bizzarri was named to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic Team after the most recent season. The award’s criteria includes a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.25 and either a top-15 finish in an NCAA regional meet or All-America honors at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

“She just has a great balance in everything she does,” Rasmussen said. “I think that’s why she’s so successful in everything she does, because she understands the importance of all the things that are going on in her life and she’s able to balance them really well and not necessarily stress out about one or the other as far as academics and athletics.”

From Bizzarri’s perspective, success in athletics and academics requires the same things.

“I think they go hand in hand,” Bizzarri said. “To be a good distance runner, you have to learn discipline and you have to be consistent, and I think it applies to academics the same.”

Rasmussen pointed out a key component in Bizzarri’s all-around success.

“(She’s a) really easy going individual, but I think the biggest asset that Angela has is … whether it’s track or on the cross country course or in the classroom or really in anything, goofing around with friends, it’s just her competitiveness,” Rasmussen said. “She wants to be really good at everything she does. I think that’s what drives her all the time, and that’s what’s great to be able to have in an individual.”

Illinois head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey especially values Bizzarri’s competitiveness on the track.

“She’s very competitive, hates to lose, always wants to win, which is great,” Buford-Bailey said. “But she doesn’t have to talk about it. She’ll show you when she gets out on the track, which is a good quality to have for an athlete.

“I think at this point her teammates expect excellence from her because she gives it to them every time. That’s what a role model is.”