Women’s track and field goes to Orlando to train in warm weather

They didn’t make it to Disney World, but the Illinois women’s track and field athletes found plenty of enjoyable things to do during a weeklong spring break in Orlando, Fla.

The women’s trip was a working vacation, and one that ended with the UCF Invitational, where two Illini qualified for the NCAA Regional Championships.

The sole reason behind the women’s getaway was the weather, but catching some rays on the beach was not the priority. Training and performing on an outdoor track for a week allowed the team to better transition from the indoor to the outdoor season.

“There are certain things we can’t get done as effectively as we’d like, like the 400m hurdles … you just can’t do in the Armory,” Illinois women’s head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said. “This time a year we really need to start stretching out, and just to get the week of nice weather was our motivation for going to Orlando.”

While the Illini didn’t turn in their best performances in Orlando, Buford-Bailey emphasized that it was a training week.

“We trained three hard days, we trained through the meet,” Buford-Bailey said. “You might not have seen a lot of the great results that we would have liked to have, but it’s difficult when you’re trying to train.”

Senior Deserea Brown had never been to Florida and particularly enjoyed the trip to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.

She also enjoyed regionally qualifying in the 400-meter hurdles, clocking 1 minute, 0.72 seconds as she finished runner-up to Florida International’s Brittney Boston (59.55).

Brown says that she learned a lot during a week that combined intense training with fun tourist attractions.

“(Coach Buford-Bailey) didn’t take it easy on us just because we were in Florida,” Brown said.

Some added bonuses for the women included both Brown in the 400-meter hurdles and junior Aja Evans, who regionally qualified in the shot put with a first place throw of 52 feet, 9.5 inches.

“For them to be national-caliber athletes, that was pretty much expected,” Buford-Bailey said of the two.

The women weren’t the only Illinois team who seeked warmer weather during spring break, as part of the men’s track and field team competed at the ASU Invitational in Tempe, Ariz, while others braved the cold at the SIU Spring Classic in Carbondale, Ill.

With six athletes regionally qualifying in four events at Arizona, the men found success in warm weather yet still took note of areas of improvement.

“We did pretty good, there are areas that we can improve on, and we know that,” men’s head coach Wayne Angel said.

While Angel was pleased about the regional qualifiers, he found things to iron out in just about everyone’s performance, especially in the 400 meters, which senior Gakologelwang Masheto ran in 46.31 seconds en route to a runner-up finish to Justin Oliver from Texas A&M; (46.19).

“The 400 meters is not a race that you can just go out and run at full blast, you’ve got to break it up into certain parts, so we’re working on that,” Angel said.

Junior Gary Miller noted that he came out too fast in his 800-meter race as well. Yet like his teammate Masheto, he was able to regionally qualify with a time of 1:50.32.

“It’s a good indicator to show your talent level and where you’re at, but at the same time it tells you that you need to work harder and improve on your times,” Miller said of regionally qualifying.