Women's Gymnastics
#11 Illinois Punches Ticket to NCAA Championships

Sunny Kato and Sarah Fiedler both won regional individual titles on Saturday
Sunny Kato and Sarah Fiedler both won regional individual titles on Saturday

April 5, 2014

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.  - All season the University of Illinois women's gymnastics team has chanted 'limitless' at every meet. On Saturday, at the Minneapolis Regional, that ideology booked the Illini's fourth trip to the NCAA Championships in the past six years. The Illini finished in second place with a 196.6 behind Oklahoma's 197.725 and ahead of Minnesota's 196.350. In addition, Sunny Kato and Sarah Fiedler walked out of the Sports Pavilion as individual regional champs. 

"This is amazing, I told this group of girls at the beginning of the year that there was just something special about this team," said Illinois head coach Kim Landrus. We came out tonight and proved to everyone else that this is indeed a special team."

A year in which multiple records were broken, the 2014 Illini continued to make history by becoming the first team to earn back-to-back bids to the NCAA Championships. The Orange and Blue's 196.6 was the second highest score in school history at an NCAA regional meet, only behind the 2009 squad's 196.7. 

After a first rotation bye, the Illini started the meet on floor where they tallied a 49.025. See began her day by delighting her home state with a 9.9 and a second place finish. Buchanan and O'Connor followed suit, each recording a 9.825. Fiedler and Eberly then rounded out the team scoring with a 9.75 and 9.725, respectively. 

Next, the Orange and Blue moved to vault where they posted yet another 49.025. See kept her 9.9 momentum rolling, leading the team once more when she tied for fifth overall. It also marked the senior's third 9.9 on vault in the last four meets. Buchanan then concluded her solid debut at Regionals with a 9.85. Lastly, Mary Jane Horth produced a 9.8, followed by O'Connor's 9.75 and Lennon's 9.725. 

Thus, at the halfway point, Illinois was in second place with a 98.050, with California (97.950) and Minnesota (97.925) applying pressure with just being a tenth behind. 

What transpired next was a season defining and season high bars routine. The Orange and Blue scored a 49.4 on the event, which was the highest of the day and the third highest in program history. After hitting a 9.9 five times this year, Sunny Kato achieved a new career high 9.925 and won the event title. 

Horth also joined in on the fun when she set a new career high of 9.9 on bars and finished in third place. Elizabeth McNabb was close behind in a tie for fourth with a career high 9.875, surpassing her previous best of 9.825. Lastly, Naleway and O'Connor tied for sixth with a 9.85 each. 

"We knew we were going to have to fight to the end," continued Landrus. "We started off slow and we had already talked about doing what we needed to do and not let anything affect us. On bars we really got that momentum going."

Illinois then concluded its meet on beam where they recorded a 49.125. Fiedler made sure today was not her last meet when she tied her career high of 9.9 and walked out as beam champion. O'Connor also recorded a top-10 finish when she led off the event with a 9.85. Horth, McNabb and See closed out the meet and rounded out the team scoring with a 9.8 each. 

Important to note, Giana O'Connor produced one of her most complete meets of the season, finishing second in the all-around with a 39.275, her second highest total on the year. 

Next up, the Fighting Illini will travel to Birmingham, Ala. for the NCAA Championships April 18-20.