Illini women’s track ready for national spotlight of Tyson Invitational

For Illinois women’s track and field, it’s time to put up or shut up.

The squad has talked all season about their improvements from last year, and their results thus far have told the same story. They will have an opportunity to see how they stack up against some of the best in the country at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark, this weekend.

“I really think our team is a lot better than we were last year, I know we’re good, but I want to see how good we are compared to other teams when it comes down to it,” sophomore Morgan Wood said.

Being the final meet for the Illini before the Big Ten Championships, the squad is looking for season-best performances across the board. The 400 meter dash has been a strong point for the squad this season, and with a healthy Ashley Kelly running the event, they’re hoping to stifle some of the top-notch competition and score the team valuable points.

“I’m excited to see what Ashley Kelly is able to do know with the healthy hamstring after Nebraska, and Ashley Spencer, this will be her second time running the 400, so it will be exciting to see what kind of time she can run,” head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said.

A pleasant surprise the Orange and Blue have had this year is the emergence of sophomore Stephanie Richartz. A pole-vaulter, Richartz has set, and then beat, her own school record in each of the four meets she’s competed in this season. However, she will face her biggest challenge yet this weekend.

“Stephanie Richartz will be competing against the No. 1 in the country in the pole vault, so that will be a great feel for her,” Buford-Bailey said.

Some of the nation’s best professional and collegiate athletes will travel to the meet specifically for the 2012 USA Track & Field Classic, held Saturday night and broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday. The extra attention could serve as a distraction for the teams, but the Illini have embraced the broad scope of the event.

“There’s a college section of the 60 meters that’s televised, so it will be good to get some national exposure by being able to be in that final, so it’s a big weekend,” Buford-Bailey said.

With the Big Ten Championships right around the corner, the Orange and Blue are fit and ready to see how their training has paid off, and they will have an opportunity to measure their improvement and potential this weekend.

“This is always our benchmark and the middle of the indoor season going into Big Tens, to see where we are and how compete against the best because there’s a difference between being fit and actually going out there and doing it when it matters,” Buford-Bailey said.