Women’s track preps for tough Tyson Invitational

The Illini women’s track team hopes to keep progressing through the season as it travels to Arkansas to compete in the Tyson Invitational this weekend. More than 60 teams will compete at the Tyson Center, the site of the 2010 NCAA’s women’s indoor track NCAA Championships. Head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey believes the meet will be a good opportunity, as it will be a preview for the indoor national championships.

“The Tyson Invitational will provide some of the most intense competition that we will see this year,” Buford-Bailey said. “Even though we are going to be going up against some of the best teams in the country, our preparation will still be the same throughout the week.”

The week of practice has been beneficial to the 4×400-meter relay team, as Buford-Bailey has decided to try adding freshman Kayla Smith into the combination of sprinters that took first in last week’s Meyo Invitational. The team will now consist of Ryisha Boyd, Ashley Kelly, Smith and Melissa Bates.

Smith hopes to keep up the success of the relay team.

“At this point in the season, I feel a lot stronger than I did in high school, but with all this training my body is a little fatigued,” Smith said. “I know if I put my mind to running the 400, I will be able to do my part for our team.”

Along with the relay team, long-distance runners Angela Bizzarri and Kristin Sutherland will hope to build on the success they had at the Meyo Invitational in the mile and 3,000 meters, respectively.

Bizzarri, last year’s national champion in the 5,000 meters, provisionally qualified for the 3,000 meters last weekend with a third-place finish, just missing an automatic bid by less than a second. In addition to Bizzarri, Sutherland also placed third in the 5,000 meters, which provisionally qualified her for nationals.

For both Bizzarri and Sutherland, the Meyo Invitational was their first race of the season, a move that Buford-Bailey had planned in order to keep the long-distance runners fresh throughout the season.

“Our team, especially the cross country and distance runners, have started late this season, so we are continuing to move forward,” Buford-Bailey said. “Our team is getting more and more excited about competing every time we go out there, so the key to success for us is to continue to make small improvements each week.”

In the field events, Aja Evans also provisionally qualified for the national championships in the shot put with her second-place finish last weekend. The senior said she has been a little frustrated with what she considers a slower start, but she said her continuing progress can help her stand out.

“Physically, I am feeling great. I have been making steady progression this whole year and I think that an automatic bid is reachable if I can do what I do in practice,” Evans said.

In the high jump, sophomore Kendall McCaugherty and freshman Shinelle Proctor will try to rebound from their disappointing finishes at the Meyo Invitional.

“Kendall and Shinelle didn’t do as well as they thought they were going to do last week, so look for them to come back with some vengeance,” Buford-Bailey said.

The competition may be at its highest at the Tyson Invitational, but Evans said it is a great opportunity.

“Personally, I can’t wait to compete this weekend because I think the high competition will bring out the best in our team and me,” Evans said.