Allison Buckley claimed a spot at the NCAA Championships and was named Regional Gymnast of the Year.
April 12, 2008
Norman, Okla. ¬- The No. 24 Fighting Illini women's gymnastics team came away with its best-ever regional finish of third place by posting a team total of 195.425 Saturday evening at the 2008 South Central Regional Championship in Norman, Okla. The Illini were led by freshman Allison Buckley and sophomore Nicole Cowart, who earned individual bids in the all-around competition to the NCAA Championship in Athens, Ga. Following the meet, Buckley became the first Illini to be named Regional Gymnast of the Year, while assistant coach Amy Kruse became the third to be named the Regional Assistant Coach of the Year. Fellow assistant Kim Landrus won the honor back in 2005 and current head coach Bob Starkell received the accolade in 1998.
In the team race, No. 4 Alabama (197.300) took the regional crown and No. 10 Oklahoma (195.875) edged the Illini (195.425) for the second spot and a coveted trip to the National Collegiate Championships. Boise State (194.400), Southeast Missouri State (193.850) and Arizona State 193.200 rounded out the six-team field.
"I am so proud of the effort that our team gave tonight," said head coach Bob Starkell. "We might be a little disappointed just because we were in the running for the national bid and didn't get it, but nevertheless we are extremely excited for the way we finished our season tonight."
Buckley and Cowart became the first Illini to earn a trip to the NCAA championship since Cara Pomeroy and Ashley Williams did it back in 2004. They finished in a tie for third place (39.100) in the all-around competition, but earned the bid by finishing as the top-2 all-around competitors on non-qualifying teams.
Buckley also finished in a tie for fifth on floor with a 9.850, while sophomore Sarah Schmidt also received a spot on the podium for her 9.850 on bars to tie for third place.
"It is great to see Allison (Buckley) and Nicole (Cowart) earn a spot at nationals," said Starkell. "It is so difficult to qualify individually, but they both have worked extremely hard this season and each deserves it."
Illinois began the competition on floor where they matched their third-highest score of season on the event of 48.950. Buckley's 9.850 led the way for the Illini, while Cowart and freshman Melissa Fernandez had impressive routines, each garnering a 9.800. Juniors Lindsey Smith and Marijka Botterman rounded out the scores for the Illini with a 9.775 and 9.725, respectively.
The Illini moved on to the vault in their next rotation, posting a 48.875 to pull into second place (97.825) following two rotations behind Alabama (98.425). Buckley and Fernandez led the UI charge, each scoring 9.800s. Cowart was just behind with a 9.775, while Botterman, Michelle McGrady and Sarah Schmidt each scored a 9.750.
Following a bye, the Illini put up their second-highest bar score of the season of 48.950. Schmidt's third place finish with a 9.850 headed the Illini, while Cowart and junior Julie Crall each scored a 9.825 to finish in a tie for eighth place. Buckley and senior Krystal Melcarek each scored a 9.725 on the event to add to the team total. Following three rotations, the Illini were trailing Oklahoma by a slight margin (.100) for second place.
The Illini's score of 48.650 on their final beam rotation was not enough to catch Oklahoma, who scored a 49.050 in their final rotation on vault. Fernandez paved the way for the Illini, scoring an impressive 9.800 to take seventh on the event. Buckley and Botterman each scored a 9.725, while Cowart and freshman Lashlee Morris posted 9.700s.