April 13, 2009

 

Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

The 11th-ranked Fighting Illini women’s gymnastics team heads to Lincoln, Neb., to compete in the NCAA Championships April 16-18 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Illinois enters the competition as the 11th seed in the 12-team field. Illinois will participate in the evening session for the team preliminaries and all-around final on Thursday, April 16 at 7 p.m., along with No. 2 Utah, No. 3 Alabama, No. 6 Oregon State, No. 7 UCLA, and No. 10 Arkansas. Illinois will begin the competition on bars and will rotate as follows: bars, beam, bye, floor, vault, bye.

The top three teams from each of Thursday’s preliminary sessions will advance to the Super Six team finals on Friday, April 17. The all-around champion will be crowned on the first day of competition, while individual event champions are scheduled for Saturday, April 18 at 6 p.m. The top four individuals on each event from each of Thursday’s sessions will compete in the individual event finals.

The Illini are coming off an impressive showing at the NCAA West Regional two weeks ago in Seattle, Wash., where they posted a 196.700 to take second place, just .05 off the school record set at this year's Big Ten Championships.

Quick Hits
• A First For Everything: Illinois is making its first ever team appearance at the NCAA Championships this weekend. The Illini earned the spot by taking second at the West Regional with a score of 196.700.

• Buckley Wins Beam at Regional: Sophomore Allison Buckley shared the West Regional Beam Title with an individual school record score of 9.95. Her score tied Stacy Redmond (1995) at the top of the individual record books. Buckley is just the third Illini in school history to earn an individual regional title, joining Nancy Thies (1976 and '77) and Cara Pomeroy (2004).

• UI Duo Claims Big Ten Titles: Freshman Kelsey Joannides won the 2009 Big Ten Vault title with a career-high 9.925 and junior Sarah Schmidt shared the Big Ten Floor crown with a school-record tying 9.950 to give Illinois multiple event champions at the conference meet for the first time since 1990.

• Records Fall in Postseason: Illinois set school records for overall team score (196.750), floor (49.500) and vault (49.375) at the Big Ten Championships en route to a second place finish. The Illini then went on to break the school beam record (49.200) at the West Regional, led by Allison Buckley’s individual record tying score of 9.95.

A Program on the Rise
By advancing to this year’s NCAA Championships, Illinois has continued its gradual climb towards becoming one of the nation’s elite teams. When this year’s senior class of Marijka Botterman, Julie Crall, Kim Kruk and Lindsey Smith started their careers four years ago, the Illini program hadn’t finished in the top half of the Big Ten in 15 years and had reached regionals only four times since 1990. During the last four years, Illinois has improved its Big Ten and regional finishes each year and has continued to climb up the national rankings. This year’s trip to nationals is just more proof that Illinois gymnastics is a program on the rise. Take a look at the program’s progress over the last four years:

Year    Big Ten    Regional    Final Nat. Rank
2006    7th             4th                  25
2007    3rd            4th                  20
2008    2nd           3rd                  15
2009    2nd           2nd                   ?

Illinois NCAA Championship History
Illinois is making its first NCAA Championship appearance this weekend. However, last year two Illini individuals – Allison Buckley and Nicole Cowart – competed at nationals in the all-around and both are back this year with that experience under their belts. Buckley earned second team All-America honors on the balance beam, joining Nancy Thies as the only Illini to earn All-America status. Overall, 12 Illinois individuals have competed at the NCAA Championships in the program’s history.

Handicapping the Field
Four-time defending NCAA Champion Georgia leads the way with both the top NQS and the top regional score (197.700) among the 12 teams. No. 2 Utah was right on their heels with a score of 197.675 at the West Regional. Illinois had the seventh-best regional score with a 196.700, ahead of No. 7 UCLA (196.625), No. 8 Oklahoma (196.600), No. 10 Arkansas (196.300), No. 9 Stanford (196.200) and No. 12 Penn State (195.800). The Illini have face three teams in the field this season, going 3-1 in those matchups. Illinois defeated Penn State twice (195.500-192.925 on Jan. 17 and 196.750-196.525 at the Big Ten Championships on March 21) and Oregon State once (195.900-195.800 in a quad at Washington on Feb. 21) this year, and fell to Utah (197.675-196.700 at the West Regional meet).