Illinois women’s track and field to compete in LSU Alumni Gold Meet

The Illinois’s women’s track and field team will send 14 athletes to Baton Rouge, La., this weekend to compete in the LSU Alumni Gold meet. They will also send one athlete, pole vaulter Jennifer DeBellis to Lexington, Ky., to compete in the Kentucky Invitational.

Though the team will be split up at different meets and numerous athletes are taking the week off in preparation for Drake Relays next weekend, the Orange and Blue are hopeful this weekend will continue to move them in the right direction.

“We’re definitely looking for a big weekend,” head coach Ron Garner said. “Even though we have people doing things all over the place, our expectations are still high.”

One athlete whom Garner expects to perform well this weekend and build off her recent success is junior thrower Mariah Smith. This past weekend at the Illinois Twilight meet, Smith had a career day in the discus. Her distance of 166 feet is the best mark in the Big Ten thus far. After such a performance, Smith has established herself as one of the top throwers in the country.

“Mariah has proven she has the talent,” Garner said. “Right now she’s third all-time in our program’s history and moving forward from our last meet we expect her to perform at a high level every time she competes.”

The LSU Alumni Gold meet will give Smith and the rest of the competing athletes a great stage to record personal-bests. The meet will provide the Orange and Blue with arguably the toughest opposing field it has faced all season. The field consists of several nationally ranked teams, including three in the top-10. These teams are Texas A&M, LSU and Arizona who are ranked first, seventh and 10th in the nation.

Though the team is sure to face stiff competition this weekend, the Illini are embracing the challenge.

“I love strong competition because it brings out the best in us,” said senior sprinter Jesica Ejesieme. “I think it’s important we focus on ourselves and the preparation we go through going into the meet.”

Another athlete who has performed well recently, but will be tested at LSU, is sophomore Britten Petrey. Petrey has won the steeplechase in every meet she has participated in this season and has dropped 20 seconds off her time in the process.

However, at LSU she will be competing in the 1,500 meter run for the first time this season.

“I am really excited for this weekend,” Petrey said. “LSU will give me a chance to compete in something other than the steeplechase and perform well in the 1,500.”

While this weekend is a great opportunity for some athletes to perform well on the track, it also gives numerous members of the team a chance to rest and prepare off it. With the highly anticipated Drake Relays meet on the horizon, coach Garner wants his athletes to be addressing their own individual needs.

“Our team is split up, but we always have one collective goal,” Garner said. “That goal is for everyone to perform at the best of their ability and improve every time they compete, whether it’s in live competition or in practice.”

Mubarak can be reached [email protected] or @justmubar.