Illini women’s track and field opens outdoor season at Baldy Castillo Invitational

By Alex Wallner

The Illinois women’s track and field team will compete this weekend in Tempe, Arizona, at the Baldy Castillo Invitational. This meet marks the beginning of a two-month long race to the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.

Illinois is coming off a ninth-place finish out of 14 teams at the Big Ten Indoor Championships just two weeks ago and is looking for a good start to the outdoor season.

Nine other teams will compete this weekend. Three of them come into the outdoor season ranked in the USTFCCCA top 25 — No. 4-ranked defending outdoor national champion Texas A&M, No. 21 host Arizona State and No. 25 Oklahoma.

Distance coach Scott Jones thinks this is an opportunity for the athletes who didn’t have an opportunity during the indoor season to compete against some of the country’s best athletes.

“We are starting our outdoor season one week earlier this year,” Jones said. “The principle reason is to jump start the season for those individuals who didn’t have a chance to compete during the indoor season, either because they only had eligibility for the outdoor season or because their events aren’t contested indoors.”

Jones said the team is especially happy to see senior Amanda Duvendack back on the track competing in the 800 meter.

Duvendack is one of the individuals who was not eligible to compete during the indoor season and is entering her fifth and final outdoor season.

She is not the only one who Jones is particularly happy to watch compete. Senior Mariah Smith and sophomore Jazjuan Wallace-Sipp are looking for strong performances coming off breakout outdoor seasons in the discus a year ago.

“Mariah did the weight throw indoors, but the discus is her natural event,” Jones said. “We also get a chance to see where we are in the 400-meter hurdles. Pedrya Seymour and Samone Thompson will both be running in that event for the first time as Illini.”

Those coming off good indoor seasons include pole vaulters, Stephanie Richartz and Jennifer DeBellis, high jumper Kandie Block-Jones and distance runners Alyssa Schneider and Nicole Choquette.

Choquette is coming off her first Big Ten Indoor championship in the 600 meter as a sophomore and is trying to continue with the grind of a season. She will partner with Duvendack in the 800 meter this weekend, which Jones believes will be a strong group.

“Choquette wasn’t on anybody’s radar at the start of the indoor season,” Jones said. “We look forward to seeing who else will emerge from the shadows this outdoor season.”

Last year’s outdoor season was not one that sophomore Bloch-Jones was expecting, but still earned second place honors in the high jump at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.

This year, Bloch-Jones hopes to have a stronger outdoor season, especially since she is aiming for a bid to the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

“I am just trying to work harder and focus on my take off to get my hips up to clear the bar,” Bloch-Jones said. “I am mainly just focusing on getting to where I can be.”

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