Bizzarri ready to run for 5,000 meter title

After finishing runner-up in the 5,000 meters in last season’s track and field NCAA Outdoor Championships, Angela Bizzarri paved a tough road for herself to follow this season.

After finishing runner-up in the 5,000 meters in last season’s track and field NCAA Outdoor Championships, Angela Bizzarri paved a tough road for herself to follow this season. But heading into this year’s nationals, the junior’s performances have indicated that she could actually top last season’s showing and win the 5,000 meters.

Although Bizzarri is the top seed in the 5,000 meters and was recently named the Midwest Region Track Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), she was characteristically modest about her goals in an interview before leaving for Fayetteville, Ark.

“I just like to compete,” Bizzarri said. “I like to get in a race and make sure that I compete to the best of my ability.”

Bizzarri did get more specific, saying that if she competes the way she hopes she will, she “can end up at the very top. Very close to first or second pretty much. So as long as I give it my best and compete as hard as I can and run a smart race I’ll be happy.”

However, Bizzarri is not Illinois’ only athlete in contention for a title at nationals. Junior Aja Evans and senior Deserea Brown enter seeded fifth and sixth, respectively.

The three are part of a squad of eight Illini led to nationals by head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey, who was named Head Coach of the Year for the Midwest Region by the USTFCCCA.

After leading her team to a school record fourth-place finish at regionals, Buford-Bailey tried not to put pressure on any individuals in the days leading up to nationals.

“Not really telling them anything mentally … just right before we’ll talk about race strategy,” Buford-Bailey said. “But really, they should just go and have fun. Especially your first time out, you know, you don’t wanna get too overwhelmed with it.”

After running a 400-meter race at regionals that disappointed her, sophomore Melissa Bates was shocked to find out that she would compete at nationals for the first time, thanks to her season-best performance from weeks ago.

“I was really surprised, because like I don’t even know how this whole nationals thing works,” Bates said.

Bates and Bizzarri exemplify the mix of athletes that are going to nationals, with a few going for the first time and others guided by experience. The entire college season culminates in nationals, and distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen’s advice for Bizzarri applies to many of Illinois athletes.

“Really set yourself up for success in the race, and give yourself a chance toward the end,” Rasmussen said. “Give yourself a chance … to be up near the front and at that point it’s hey, who wants it more? Who can race faster?”