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.