Robinson, Bizzarri, Evans represent women’s track and field at NCAAs

Junior Tamika Robinson, one of three Illini women competing in this weekend’s 2010 NCAA Indoor Championships, admits to feeling a bit nervous before the big meet.

Luckily for her, Robinson will be joined by two-time national champion (cross country and 5,000 meters) Angela Bizzarri and Aja Evans, who won the Big Ten Championships in the shot put and finished fifth in last year’s indoor national championships.

“I am a little nervous because it’s my first nationals, so I want to think of this as just a regular meet,” Robinson said. “Having (Angela and Aja) there with me will help because they are my friends. They’ve both been there before, so they will be able to show me the ropes and show me how nationals are.”

If anyone was to show Robinson the ropes at nationals, it would be Bizzarri. She placed fourth at the 2009 NCAA Indoor Championships in the 3,000 meters. This season, the senior automatically qualified for the 3,000 and 5,000 races, but she has opted to focus solely on the 3,000. Bizzarri, who owns four of the top-five 3,000 times in school history, said a national championship is not her main goal.

“Winning another national championship would be exciting, but it’s not my main focus,” Bizzarri said. “My main goal is to go into the meet and to compete. I am feeling pretty good, and it is always fun to go out and compete against the best.”

Head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said no one has seen Bizzarri at her best this season.

“I think Angela will be in good position this weekend because I know she hasn’t had her fastest race yet,” Buford-Bailey said.

As for the other the senior of the trio, Evans automatically qualified for nationals by breaking her own school record and the Big Ten Indoor Championships record in the shot put en route to the Big Ten title. Last season, she placed fifth at the NCAA Indoor Championships, but Evans said overcoming some mental barriers at the Big Ten meet will help her at this year’s national championships.

“I have been used to progressing a little faster than I have been this season, but once I got that big throw, I feel good,” Evans said. “Breaking a school record definitely means something. It means there’s a lot more in store because even with that throw, there’s a lot more to work on.”

Both seniors can share their previous national championship experiences with first-time qualifier Robinson. Robinson is ranked 14th in the 60 hurdles heading into the championships after running a personal-best 8.25 seconds in her previous two meets. Last week, she won the 60 hurdles at the Iowa State NCAA Qualifier, but Robinson said she does not want to get ahead of herself.

“My goal is to make every round possible. I’m trying to make it to the finals, but I have to take it one race at a time,” Robinson said. “The key to making it to the finals will be to have tunnel vision.”

The three Illini will represent three different aspects of a track and field team (distance, field, sprints). Buford-Bailey said all three aspects being represented reflects what the Illini have been striving for.

“(Having all three) means that we are a well-rounded team and that’s what our focus is. I think once we put it together for outdoors in the Big Ten, it will show up there,” Buford-Bailey said. “Anything can happen at nationals. The key is just getting there.”