Women’s track finishes fourth at Big Tens

Track and field is a team sport during the Big Ten Championships, but it takes many strong individual performances for the team to succeed. In Columbus, Ohio, four Illini won event titles, Angela Bizzarri broke a school record, and the Illini scored 100 points in placing fourth.

“I think we exceeded our expectations,” said Head Coach Tonja Buford-Bailey. “With our young group we figured if we did really well we could be fourth and score 90 points, we actually scored 100 so we did wonderful.”

Illinois rallied together as a team, with many athletes equaling or surpassing their seed-times. Senior transfer Deserea Brown came up big for the Illini in her first and last Big Ten Championships.

“I guess all my goals came true, so I’m just happy with today and happy with my teammates,” Brown said. “The Big Ten meet was really just my way of giving back to Illinois because they’ve given me so much in my last year. That’s what I was thinking all day, like ‘Let’s just get them as many points as I can.'”

Brown and Bizzarri tied for the most points with 18. Brown won a gold, silver and bronze medal for performances in the 400-meter hurdles, 4×400 meter relay and 100-meter hurdles, respectively.

Bizzarri, one of the best distance runners in Illinois history, won her first Big Ten title, finishing the 5,000 meters with a time of 15 minutes, 54.86 seconds, a Big Ten meet record.

Illinois’ first event champion of the meet was junior Aja Evans, who won the shot put with a throw of 54 feet, 4.75 inches on Saturday. Evans also went off the blocks for the third-place 4×100-meter relay.

“You’re never going to see that anywhere in any conference, that a shot put winner can come back and have a baton in her hands, it’s just unheard of,” Buford-Bailey said.

While Evans went into the shot put ranked first, sophomore Melissa Bates improved upon her seed to win the 400 meters with a time of 53.39 seconds. Bates found herself competing against three teammates, as four Illini advanced to the final of the 400 meters.

With all of the strong performances during the weekend, the Illini are right where Buford-Bailey hoped they would be going into the Championship stage of the season.

“The coaching staff, we’ve planned for this, this was not a surprise for us, this is when we wanted our kids to start shining is now, and then going into the Championship season,” Buford-Bailey said. “With my background in the sport I know how important it is to be ready when it’s time to be ready, so we’re expecting even bigger things coming up in the regionals and on the national level.”