Illini eye top spot at regionals

Based on performances at the Big Ten Championships nearly two weeks ago, it doesn’t look like the Illinois women’s track and field team has peaked yet. Head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey hopes that is the case as she leads her squad qualifiers to Louisville, Ky., for the NCAA Regional Championships from May 29-30.

Based on performances at the Big Ten Championships nearly two weeks ago, it doesn’t look like the Illinois women’s track and field team has peaked yet. Head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey hopes that is the case as she leads her squad qualifiers to Louisville, Ky., for the NCAA Regional Championships from May 29-30.

While the ultimate achievement for Illinois’ athletes is a strong showing at nationals, they must place in the top-five in their event at regionals to be guaranteed a chance to move on.

After giving the team a short rest following the Big Ten Championships, Buford-Bailey liked what she saw in practice and hopes that her athletes’ best performances are yet to come.

“I think we’re starting to get sharp again,” Buford-Bailey said. “Now regionals, we’ve got to go down there and run some PR’s too. That’s the thing about track, you’ve got to keep reinventing yourself every race.”

While Illinois athletes have consistently improved throughout the season and found success in a fourth-place finish at Big Tens, few are going into regionals ranked in the top-five in the region.

“We’re not exactly where we needed to be to take a big squad to nationals, everybody has to improve,” Buford-Bailey said.

While regionals is one of the biggest meets of the season, the days preceding it are some of the least stressful for sophomore Jessica Penney.

“Practice is going really well since school’s finished and exams are finished,” Penney said. “All the stress is just gone and now I can just totally focus on track and make sure it’s going well.”

Penney will compete in the long jump and 100-meter hurdles and like most of her teammates, hopes for a personal-best performance at regionals.

“I should be peaking for regionals, and then hopefully that will get me through to nationals, that’s the plan,” Penney said.

Senior Nikkita Holder qualified for regionals in the 100-meter hurdles for the first time at Big Tens, and hopes for an even stronger performance in what could be her last meet as an Illini.

“Big Tens was … my first big break in the season, so I’m looking forward to going in strong, hopefully ending well,” Holder said. “Considering it’s my last year, I’d love to make nationals, but the overall goal is to just improve my time, and if my time takes me to nationals then so be it.”