3rd Place Big Ten Championships | 11th Place NCAA Championships | Highlight Video
In her first season as interim head coach, Kim Landrus led Illinois to its highest national ranking in school history, as the Illini wrapped up the year ranked No. 11 following their second-ever appearance at the NCAA Championships. During the 2011 season, Illinois matched its highest regional finish with a second-place showing in Tuscaloosa, placed third at the Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis and set the school record for team score (196.975) and beam (49.375). The Illini ended the season in the top 25 for the sixth year in a row while its previous top finish came in 2009 when the Illini made their first NCAA appearance and placed 12th in the country.
At the NCAA Championships, the Illini placed sixth in their session with a 195.100 and 11th overall in the country in front of host Kent State. They more than doubled the record books by racking up six All-America accolades during the afternoon semifinal session at the Wolstein Center, giving the UI program 11 total All-Americans. Senior Melissa Fernandez was responsible for half the honors, leading the way with a pair of first-team All-America honors on beam and in the all-around along with a second-team nod on floor. Senior Allison Buckley and sophomore Alina Weinstein were also second-team All-Americans on floor while junior Kelsey Joannides garnered the distinction on vault for placing among the top eight in the session.
Fernandez accomplished several firsts for the Illini in her final competition at the University of Illinois. The Eudora, Kan., native earned three All-America honors to become Illinois' first-ever multiple All-American at the NCAA Championships, placed fifth in the nation in the all-around to become the first Illini to earn an NCAA trophy in the all-around and reached the podium at event finals by tying for fifth on beam to notch the highest individual finish in school history. She is the first Illini to make the podium twice in her career at event finals and now owns the UI program's most career All-America accolades with four, just in front of teammate Buckley's three.
Another individual, Buckley, cemented her name throughout the UI record book in her final season as an Orange and Blue gymnast. The Schaumburg, Ill., native broke the career event titles record with 62 crowns, eclipsed her own record-setting mark in the all-around with a 39.550 and equaled her own score of 9.950 on beam, which is tops in program history.
At the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional, Illinois earned its second-ever trip to the NCAA Championships following a runner-up finish at Coleman Coliseum. The Illini came through in the clutch on balance beam and totaled a 195.925 to edge Penn State (195.850) for the final qualifying spot. Illinois was solid on all four events, posting a 49.075 on beam, a 48.975 on vault and floor and a 48.900 on bars.
At the Big Ten Championships in Minnesota, the Illini took third place with a score of 196.075 following stellar showings on floor, vault and bars with scores over 49 on each, as the Illini earned a top-three finish for the fourth time in five years. Individually, four gymnasts reached the podium with nine top-five finishes, led by freshman Amber See tying for the Big Ten vault title with a 9.900. Before the conference meet, three Illini earned All-Big Ten honors, as selected by the coaches, with Buckley and Fernandez being named to the first team and Joannides garnering second-team accolades.
At the annual postseason awards banquet, Fernandez was named the team’s Most Valuable gymnast and Most Outstanding along with Buckley. Weinstein was selected as the team’s Most Improved Gymnast, as she collected her first career All-America honors. Fernandez also earned the team's Most Consistent Beam award for the second time in her career after hitting a perfect 15-for-15 on the event and equaled senior Samantha Perino for the highest GPA on the squad to garner the Scholar-Athlete Award.