Track stars headed to Texas

Track stars headed to Texas

On June 26, Tonja Buford-Bailey announced she was leaving Illinois to become an associate head coach at the University of Texas.

On Tuesday, two of her biggest recruits at Illinois announced they were leaving to join Buford-Bailey in the Lone Star State.

Ashley Spencer and Morolake Akinosun, the nucleus of Illinois’ 14th-place finish at the NCAA outdoor meet, tweeted their announcements Tuesday.

The defections came 11 days after Illinois hired Ron Garner to replace Buford-Bailey.

Illinois released the pair from their scholarships, allowing them to pursue other options after trying to convince them to stay in C-U.

The school did not comment on the decision to transfer to Texas, instead waiting for the Longhorns to make it official.

The loss of Spencer, a two-time NCAA champion, is a devastating blow to the UI program.

The Indianapolis product is a 12-time Big Ten champ who was named the top female athlete at Illinois after her highly successful sophomore season.

The five-time All-American mentioned her desire to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics — and Buford-Bailey’s role in her development — in an interview last month.

“I lean on her every day,” Spencer said. “She’s my rock. She keeps me focused and grounded.”

Buford-Bailey (Coach of the Year), Spencer (Athlete of the Championship) and Akinosun (Freshman of the Year) were honored in February after Illinois won its first Big Ten indoor women’s track title since 1996.

Now all three are gone.

First came Spencer’s tweet from @prettyinspikes: “Hook’em \m/” at 10:44 a.m., followed a few hours later by an Instagram picture of her wearing a Longhorns cap.

Akinosun (@xMorolake) followed at 12:43 p.m.: “In this fall I’m going to take my talents to Austin, Texas and run as a Longhorn. #HookEm \m/”

Akinosun qualified for the NCAA finals in the 100 during a highly successful freshman season.


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PortlandIllini wrote on July 30, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Bad move Ashley and Morolake!    I hope the NCAA makes you sit out a year like they do for football and basketball recruits.  

oandb wrote on July 31, 2013 at 4:07 am

totally classless move by the coach. Agree that they should sit for a year.

jturner wrote on July 31, 2013 at 10:07 am

They could probably care less if they had to sit for a year.  They have their eyes on a much bigger prize than conference or even NCAA titles.  They can train to their heart's content in warm Austin under the coach they trust and shoot for 2016.  As for competition, there are opportunities outside of the NCAA - e.g. the Drake relays and other major competitions often have "open" events where anyone can run. It's a bad/sad deal for the Illini, but 3 individuals made personal decisions based on their own self interest - the American way.

Railsplitter wrote on July 31, 2013 at 11:07 am

If they don't want to be at Illinois then I don't want them here.

lasmith12 wrote on July 31, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Athletes in non revenue sports do not have to sit out a year if they transfer.

For those blaming the coach, maybe it was the athletes who asked to be taken along. For Spencer, who is a potential Olympian, why wouldn't she want to continue to train with onef the best coaches around, who also happened to be an assistant coach for the 2012 Olympic team.