Spencer leads Big Ten runners-up
MADISON, Wis. — Ashley Spencer put on a performance she won’t soon forget.
That the freshman’s record day at the Big Ten championships came with her mom in attendance — on Mother’s Day, no less — was even more special.
Spencer won the 200 and 400 meters and also ran a leg on the winning 1,600 relay team for Illinois, which had its best showing at the league meet since 2007 by finishing second.
“Happy Mother’s Day to my mom. She’s really been everything I am and I’m so glad she could come out and witness our run at a big ten title.”
Spencer, an native of Indianapolis, was still struggling to wrap her head around the team’s performance nearly four hours after the final event of the meet.
“For us to come and get runner-up is amazing,” she said “I’m ecstatic, at a loss for words, really. I still can’t believe it. It’s unreal.”
Spencer had plenty of help. Senior Latoya Griffith won the 400 hurdles, and sophomore Stephanie Richartz broke the school record in winning the pole vault.
“It was a great team effort,” fourth-year coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said.
The arrow continues to point up for the young team.
“We really had a great weekend,” Buford-Bailey said. “We didn’t win it, but we came really close.”
Illinois had 110 points to tie for second place with Nebraska. Ohio State won the meet with 117 points.
Ashley Kelly had fourth-place finishes in the 200 and 400, and also teamed with Spencer on the winning 1,600 relay and the runner-up 400 relay.
Sophomores Breeana Coleman and Jesica Ejesieme finished second and third, respectively, in the 100 hurdles. Ejesieme, who ran on the 400 relay team, was second to Griffith in the 400 hurdles.
“It just shows you how our team is really young and really growing and is already doing well at the conference level,” Buford-Bailey said. “That’s what is really special about this team.”
For the Illinois men’s team, Andrew Riley and Stanley Azie combined to defend their league title in the 400 relay — to go with a pair of second-place finishes.
“That will be a legacy that those two guys leave,” Illini men’s coach Mike Turk said.
A few hours late, Riley edged Azie to win the 100 in 10.39 seconds. Azie checked in at 10.42.
“I wasn’t worried,” Riley said of their friendly rivalry. “Whatever we do starts in practice. He wants to beat me. It’s competitive and it helps both of us.”
Riley also won the 100 hurdles, the senior finishing his Big Ten career with 13 league titles.
The Illini, whose 12 individual scorers was up from five a year ago, finished eighth as a team.
“We’re really close to breaking through,” Turk said. “Our goal was top five, but we’re not too far off.”