Illinois women’s track and field dominates final home meet

The Illini women’s track and field team overwhelmed its competition Saturday at the Orange and Blue Open, the team’s last indoor meet of the regular season.

With the Big Ten Championships starting this weekend, Saturday’s meet presented the team with an opportunity to gain some much needed momentum and positive energy heading into the championships. The Illini took full advantage of this opening and controlled the meet from start to finish.

Though Illinois State was there in full to oppose Illinois, the Illini may as well have been running against themselves as the Redbirds provided little resistance.

The Illini had nine different first-place finishes. In addition, Illinois saw personal bests recorded in 11 different events. Head coach Ron Garner said he wanted to use Saturday as a gauge to see where his team was mentally, as well as to make sure his girls were executing properly in anticipation of Big Tens. Garner said he was pleased after Saturday’s performance.

Illinois had great performances from numerous members of the team. While some of these were expected, others came as pleasant surprises.

The Illini sprinters, not necessarily known to be the strength of the team, performed well. They dominated the 60-meter dash with three top-five finishes. This included sophomore Kymbriona Taylor, who won the event, as well as junior Moriyike Akinosun and sophomore Claire Keiger, who finished third and fourth, respectively. Keiger’s success did not stop there, as she also won the 200-meter dash and set a personal best in the process.

Sophomore Samone Thompson and junior Asia Thomas added to the list of the Illini sprinters to win events. Thompson won the 60-meter hurdles while Thomas secured a first-place finish in the 400-meter dash in an impressive showing. Thomas clocked a time of 54.25 seconds, a season best and the fourth-best mark posted in the Big Ten this year. With her performance, Thomas has positioned herself to succeed at Big Tens due to the benefit of having a strong seed time.

As expected, freshman Kandie Bloch-Jones and sophomore Jennifer DeBellis lead the way for the Illini in the field events. Bloch-Jones notched a victory in the high jump, while DeBellis was outstanding in the pole vault and won the event with a vault of 12 feet, 8 inches, the fourth-best vault in school history.

For the athletes that participated Saturday, the Open served as a confidence booster. Meanwhile, those who didn’t compete were able to use the weekend off to rest and focus on technical work leading into the Big Tens next weekend.

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