Women’s track captures 8 wins at the Orange and Blue Open

The Illini women’s track and field squad took home victories in eight of the 11 events it competed in this weekend.

The dominating performance at the Orange and Blue Open, held at the UI Armory, bodes well for their next two meets, the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., and the Big Ten Championships in Lincoln, Neb.

“The girls we had run today, they were running for a purpose,” Illinois head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said.

Buford-Bailey held some of her veteran and slightly injured athletes out of the meet, but the athletes who did compete performed at the highest level they have all season. Freshman Asia Thomas won her first event as a collegiate athlete, crossing the finish line in the 400 meters in 56.70 seconds, a personal best. Five of the top six finishers in the 600 meters were Illini, with senior Ryisha Boyd winning the event with a time of 1:30.88. Buford-Bailey was also encouraged by freshman Chloe Schmidt’s performance in the event.

“Asia Thomas really shined in the 400 meters, almost all of the distance runners PR’ed,” Buford-Bailey said. “Chloe Smith had a good day in the 600, the 600 was really good.”

In the marquee race of the day, the Gary Winkler Invitational 60-meter hurdles final, which featured some of the top hurdlers in the country, Ohio State’s Christina Manning set a new Armory record with a time of 7.99. The only Illini to cross the finish line in that race was sophomore Jesica Ejesieme, who set a personal-best in the prelims with a time of 8.39 and went on to finish with an 8.47.

“Jesica Ejesieme ran a PR in the prelims, and Breeana Coleman ran a season best in the prelim,” Buford-Bailey said. “But we were really hoping that invitational final would work well for them, but it didn’t. But I think it really gave them an idea of what it takes to run fast in a lot of competitions.”

In the field, Stephanie Richartz set a school record in the pole vault for the fourth consecutive week with a jump of 4.21 meters.

“Again, we had the highlight from Stephanie Richartz. She just keeps getting better and better and better each week,” Buford-Bailey said.

The strong performance in what was a fine-tuning meet is just what the Illini were looking for in the Orange and Blue Open. Now the Illini look ahead to the more competitive events on their schedule.

“I think we’re in a good place right now; we’ll definitely get another indicator of where we are when we go to Tyson, prior to the Big Ten meet,” Buford-Bailey said. “But I think we’re about as ready as we’re going to get for the beginning of February.”