Illinois' second place finish is its best-ever at an NCAA Regional meet.
April 4, 2009
SEATTLE - The No. 14 Fighting Illini women's gymnastics team claimed the program's first NCAA Championship bid with a second place finish at the 2009 West Regional Championship in Seattle Saturday night. Sophomore Allison Buckley took home a share of the beam crown with an individual school record score of 9.95 to lead the Illini to an impressive 196.700 team score, just .05 off the school record set at this year's Big Ten Championships.
"I couldn't be more proud of these girls," Illini head coach Bob Starkell said. "Making it to the NCAA Championships is a first for Illinois and has been our goal all season. It's hard to express how I feel right now. We will celebrate tonight and can't wait to start training for nationals on Monday."
In the team race, No. 2 Utah ran away from the competition from the opening event to finish in first place with a 197.675. The third-seeded Illini upset second-seeded and 11th-ranked Auburn (195.250), who finished fourth behind No. 19 Boise State (195.300). San Jose State (194.800) and Washington (194.800) finished tied for fifth, to round out the regional field.
The Illini will join Utah and 10 other teams at the 2009 National Collegiate Gymnastics Championships in Lincoln, Neb., April 16-18. Illinois was the only team that was not a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in any of the six regional meets to advance to the NCAA Championships. Overall, Illinois had the seventh best score of the 12 teams advancing to nationals.
Several Illini received individual spots on the podium for their performances, including Buckley in three events, taking first on beam, second on vault (9.90), and fourth in the all-around (39.425). Senior Marijka Botterman also earned a spot on stage with a career-high 9.900 on bars to take third place, while freshman Kelsey Joannides and sophomore Melissa Fernandez tied for fourth on beam with 9.875s. Joannides also joined Buckley on the all-around podium with a 39.300 to take sixth.
Illinois began the competition on floor, tallying their fourth best score this season of 49.225. Schmidt paved the way for the Illini with a 9.875 to tie for sixth place. Buckley and Botterman scored 9.85s to tie for eighth place, while Joannides and junior Nicole Cowart tallied 9.825s for the Illini. Utah opened up a significant lead with a 49.550, but Illinois led Auburn 49.225-49.075 for the coveted number two spot after the first rotation.
The Illini moved to vault in rotation two, where they continued to place their mark in the Illinois vault record books with a 49.175, tying the third best score this season and in school history. This year's team now holds the top-five vault scores in program history. Buckley's second place finish with a career-high tying score (9.900) paced the Illini, followed by Botterman's 9.850 to tie for seventh. Joannides tied for ninth (9.825), while Cowart and Fernandez were also impressive, tallying 9.800s. Illinois increased its lead over the Tigers (98.400-97.900) after two rotations.
"Floor was a great place for us to start," Starkell said. "We had so much adrenaline and were able use it to our advantage. Hats off to Marijka Botterman for starting our team off on such a high note. After floor, we kept the momentum going and went to vault and stuck almost every landing to put ourselves in great shape."
After a bye in rotation three, the Illini were able to keep their momentum going into the uneven bars, scoring a 49.100, the third best score this season and eighth best in school history. Botterman led the way with her career-best score (9.900) and third place finish, followed by Cowart's 9.850 for sixth and Fernandez's career-high 9.825. Joannides' career-high tying 9.775 and Schmidt's 9.750 finished out the Illinois total. The Illini increased their lead over the Tigers to 1.175 in rotation four, as Auburn counted fall on floor (48.425).
The Orange and Blue came into their final rotation with a comfortable second place cushion, and went on to increase that margin over Auburn and Boise State, as the Illini posted both individual and school records on beam. Illinois' beam total of 49.200 eclipsed the old mark (49.175) that had already been tied twice earlier this season. Buckley's 9.950 tied Stacy Redmond (1995) at the top of the individual record books and earned her a share of the beam title with Utah's Jamie Deetscreek. Joannides tied a career-high to equal Fernandez's 9.875 for her spot on the podium, while Lashlee Morris scored a 9.825 to round out the Illini scoring.
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). Thies, a former Olympian, won three events in '76 and four in '77, while Pomeroy won the uneven bars with a perfect 10.0 in 2004.
"Luckily, after high-energy events like floor and vault, we had a bye," Starkell said of the team's mindset heading into the final two events. "Bars and beam are calm events that require more concentration. We knew we were in a good position and the girls handled the pressure and just did their routines."
Along with Buckley and Joannides in the earning spots in the podium in the all-around, Cowart also had an impressive day on all four events, scoring a 39.150 to take seventh place.
Check fightingillini.com on Monday for photos from the regional competition and for more information on the NCAA Championships.