Illini women’s track and field look for strong showing at EIU Big Blue Classic

Illinois%27+Jennifer+DeBellis+attempts+to+vault+over+the+pole+during+the+Orange+%26amp%3B+Blue+meet+at+the+Armory+on+Saturday%2C+Feb.+21.+Illinois%27+women%27s+team+won+1st+place+out+of+5.

Illinois’ Jennifer DeBellis attempts to vault over the pole during the Orange & Blue meet at the Armory on Saturday, Feb. 21. Illinois’ women’s team won 1st place out of 5.

By Alex Wallner

The Illinois women’s track and field team will compete in the Eastern Illinois University Big Blue Classic this weekend in Charleston, Illinois — its first appearance in the meet since the 2011-12 season.

This meet will be the first of two in-state competitions for the Illini in the outdoor season. In two weeks they host the Illinois Twilight at the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium.

The meet will feature EIU, Illinois State, Indiana State, Chicago State, Detroit, Bradley, Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Lincoln University; junior college Lincoln College; and Division II schools Marian University and Rockford College.

The Illini are coming off a strong meet at the Vanderbilt Black and Gold Invitational, and distance coach Scott Jones said that the coaching staff is looking for strong performances in every event this weekend.

“Many of the women will be competing at a distance shorter than their focus event to give them an opportunity to develop their speed,” Jones said. “We will be taking a big group to Eastern, so I’m looking for those who haven’t had many racing opportunities to make a strong statement.”

One runner who performed well last weekend was sophomore Hanna Winter — she earned her first outdoor win of her career in the 5,000 meters with a time of 17 minutes, 18 seconds.

Winter said the win helped her gain confidence heading towards bigger events like next weekend’s Jim Click Shootout in Tucson, Arizona.

In the Big Blue Classic, Winter will compete in the 1,500 meters and said focusing on her speed, rather than her pace, will be key to a good time.

Another winner last weekend was junior Jennifer DeBellis, who edged teammate and indoor All-American Stephanie Richartz by 15-hundreths of a meter in the pole vault. DeBellis jumped 3.85 meters to Richartz’s 3.70. They finished first and second respectively in the event.

Even though the win helped her build confidence, DeBellis said her main goal is to earn a mark that will send her to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

“A win was really nice last weekend,” DeBellis said. “I definitely would love to put up a mark close to or above my personal best, which would put me in good standing for a qualifying mark.”

DeBellis gives a lot of credit to her indoor season, where she worked hard to conquer some fears.

“Now that I think I’ve done a good job with that, I’m trying to really nail down my technique for the rest of the outdoor season,” DeBellis said. “I’d say a goal that would mean a lot to me to reach would be to stand on the podium at the Big Ten Championships with my other pole vault teammates.”

Not only was Jones pleased with the wins but how his team responded to the cold, wet and windy weather conditions. 

“I’m very pleased with the work ethic of the group and our ability to race competitively, regardless of circumstances,” Jones said. “So really all we have to do to get better throughout the entirety of the season is to stay consistent and stay confident in the process. We have already gone through two competitive seasons. The process is pretty well established so we know how things are going to play out.”

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