Women’s track and field sees team, individual success at NCAA Regionals

The track and field NCAA Regional Championships provides an environment where individuals strive to advance to the NCAA Outdoor Championships. But when the Illinois women’s track and field head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey reflected on the scored Louisville Regional, her team’s fourth-place finish stuck out.

“Anytime they score a meet, you want to get as many points as you can,” Buford-Bailey said. “Whether it’s team oriented or not, I feel like if they’re scoring it, you want your team to do well in the standings.”

During the weekend, 10 athletes scored 43 points, placing Illinois behind only first-place LSU, second-place Tennessee and third-place Michigan.

Four Illinois athletes guaranteed themselves a spot in the NCAA Outdoor Championships from June 10-13, with junior Angela Bizzarri taking the 5,000 meters title and senior Deserea Brown winning 400-meter hurdles. Other top-five finishers included freshman Latoya Griffith in the 400-meter hurdles and sophomore Chantelle Groenewoud in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

“What I’m the most proud about is that I thought we have some gamers, we have some really competitive athletes on this team and that’s what you want,” Buford-Bailey said.

For Brown, the many Illini successes gave her more motivation when her races came later in the meet.

“It really helps to get the momentum going, to watch the other girls doing well, racking up points as a team,” Brown said. “It just felt really good. The energy was really high all day for us.”

Along with running 400-meter hurdles, Brown led off for the 4×400 meter relay, the last event of the meet. In a competitive field, the relay ran a season-best time of 3:34.69. However, the time was only good for fifth, two spots lower than the top-three placement that is required for a relay to automatically advance to the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Nevertheless, the relay has reportedly made it to nationals via the descending order list, though the official announcement will not come until Monday. The news came as a relief to sophomore Melissa Bates.

“I wanted to redeem myself because I did horrible in the open 400,” Bates said. “I told (my teammates) before, ‘I’m doing this for you guys, we better make it.'”

Once the final list of national competitors is announced, Buford-Bailey will try to get her team focused for the last time this season.

“The reason that people did so well this weekend is because they really want to go to nationals, so I’m hoping that when they get there they want to perform well,” Buford-Bailey said.