Illini women’s track and field returns home for Orange and Blue Open

By Alex Wallner

The Illinois women’s track and field team returns to the Armory on Saturday for the Orange and Blue Open; the first time the team has seen its home turf during competition in more than a month.

It will be the final meet before the team heads to the Big Ten Indoor Championships in Geneva, Ohio, on Feb. 27.

Illinois will host five teams: Bradley, Illinois State, Northern Illinois, Valparaiso and Missouri Baptist, and freshman Janile Rogers is excited for one event in particular.

“I’m mostly excited for long jump,” Rogers said. “I just really want to focus on everything that I’ve been practicing, which is just being able to stay consistent, and to be able to get a good jump because I know I’m capable of jumping very far.”

The field isn’t as strong as other meets the Illini have been in, so head coach Ron Garner and his staff plan to address different developmental points in each event.

Garner calls this phase the final tune-up because he doesn’t need to see anything out of the ordinary from his team.

Coming off a season-best time of 9 minutes, 55 seconds in the 3,000 meters, freshman Denise Branch is using Saturday’s meet to reenergize herself for next weekend.

“I don’t plan to do anything different in my training,” Branch said. “Definitely rest will be a part of it and regenerating and I’m just trying to show that I’m prepared going into championship season.”

Last weekend, Rogers ran the 200 meters in 24.68, her personal record and the fastest time of any Illini runner this season.

Heading into Saturday’s meet, the Joliet, Illinois, native is focusing her practice time this week on the things that made her successful last weekend.

“I am doing a lot more speed endurance,” Rogers said. “Because I (set a PR) in the 200 — which was my best time that I ran, even outdoors — I am doing more speed endurance and also focusing on form to stay relaxed and keep my body moving forward.”

Garner said the improvements each week come not only from the athletes themselves, but from the assistant coaches and how they go about preparing each individual. He added that he has seen improvements week after week, be it season bests, personal records or individuals climbing up the all-time lists in their respective events. 

Garner said he doesn’t expect his team’s attitude to change despite the size and importance of the meet. He wants his team to represent Illinois well, go out and compete.

In last year’s Orange and Blue Open, the Illini recorded nine event titles.

Alex can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter

@AWallner93.