Illinois women’s track to use home meet to prepare for Big Tens

The Illini women’s track and field team will compete Saturday in the Orange and Blue Open at the Illinois Armory.

After an impressive team showing in their last meet, with five Illini netting top-five finishes, the Orange and Blue look to find a collective groove with Big Ten Championships just a week away. The team hopes to use the meet as a momentum builder as well as an opportunity for rest and preparation.

“Saturday is our final tune-up before Big Tens,” head coach Ron Garner said. “It will give us a chance to see who is ready to go and can give some of our athletes confidence for next week.” 

Illinois State will be the only other team competing in the meet. Garner said he wanted the meet to be a low-pressure environment, conducive to working on technical execution.

Senior mid-distance runner Amanda Duvendack, who will sit out this weekend to rest up for Big Tens, has come on strong lately and is hitting her stride at the right time. Duvendack, who currently holds the fifth-fastest 800-meter run time in the Big Ten, has been practicing hard and it has translated well. 

“I think a big thing for me is my confidence. I have really grown in that area and have become more confident in my abilities,” Duvendack said. “I really just need to work on my competitiveness. I need get my mindset right and really go into Big Tens with my game face on.”

Freshman high jumper Kandie Bloch-Jones, who is getting better and better as the season moves forward, will be looking to continue her recent success. At last week’s Tyson Invitational, Bloch placed second in the high jump with a height of 5 feet, 11.5 inches. It was the fourth-best performance in school history and the top mark in Big Ten this season.

“I did not expect this success to come so soon, but it’s very nice,” Bloch-Jones said. 

Bloch-Jones will compete Saturday, unlike some other of the team’s top athletes, to maximize preparation. 

“Coach (Garner) asked me if I wanted to compete, and I told him yes because I am used to competing every week,” she said. “Saturday will be like a practice for me, and I’ll be able to work on some things.”

In addition to Bloch-Jones, junior Alyssa Schneider is hoping to stay hot. Schneider ran a personal best time of 4 minutes, 47.34 seconds in the mile last weekend, the 10th-best performance in school history and sixth best in the Big Ten this year.

While Schneider is expected to lead the way for the Illini in events on the track, Bloch-Jones and pole vaulters Nicole Demarais and Jennifer DeBellis will spearhead the charge in field events. Both Demarais and Debellis are coming off personal-best performances.

The Illini will also send a distance medley relay team to compete for just the second time this year. Last week’s squad of Stephanie Morgan, Chloe Schmidt, Kymbriona Taylor and Alyssa Schneider clocked a time of 11:29.51, good enough to place fourth at last week’s Tyson Invitational. This was also the fifth-fastest time in school history and is currently third best in the Big Ten.

With Big Ten Championships so close, Illini must stay composed and take things step by step.

“It’s important that our girls stay within themselves and everyone is prepared for next week,” Garner said. “Saturday is important but our focus is also on Big Tens because then you only get one shot.”

Mubarak can be reached at [email protected] and @justmubar.