Women's Gymnastics
Illini Finish Fourth at South Central Regional

Illini coach Bob Starkell (center) was named 2007 South Central Regional Coach of the Year. He's pictured with Regional Assistant Coaches of the Year John Court and Colleen Johnson, of Arizona.
Illini coach Bob Starkell (center) was named 2007 South Central Regional Coach of the Year. He's pictured with Regional Assistant Coaches of the Year John Court and Colleen Johnson, of Arizona.

April 15, 2007

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TUCSON, Ariz. - The 20th-ranked Fighting Illini women's gymnastics team equaled its best-ever regional finish of fourth place for the second straight year, and the seventh time overall Saturday night at the 2007 South Central Regional in Tucson, Ariz. The Illini scored a 194.625 and finish the season ranked 20th overall, the highest-ever final ranking for a UI squad. Following the meet, Illini head coach Bob Starkell was named South Central Regional for the second time in the last three years. He also took home the honor in 2005.

In the team race, the pre-meet seeds held as No. 4 Stanford (196.600) took the regional crown and No. 8 Oregon State (196.075) edged host and 15th-ranked Arizona (196.025) for the second spot and a coveted trip to the National Collegiate Championships April 26-28 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Arizona State (194.375) and Illinois-Chicago (190.925) rounded out the six-team field.

"I'm really proud of this team," said Starkell. "They were really nervous before the meet, but they fought through it and were aggressive and just kept plugging away. We survived beam and floor and I thought our vault and bars were very good to finish up. Overall, we performed very well tonight."

Junior Michelle McGrady was the top individual finisher for the Illini, tying for second in the vault with a 9.850. Senior Cara Pomeroy was unable to replicate her perfect 10.0 from the 2004 South Central Regional in Tucson, but the reigning Big Ten bars champ still turned in a spectacular performance on her signature event, scoring a 9.825 to take fourth overall.

"It was an emotional night for Cara (Pomeroy)," said Starkell. "It was her final meet as an Illini and she's had a great career. She'll always be recognized as one of the top competitors in the history of this program. Also, I thought our freshman (Nicole Cowart and Sarah Schmidt) did well tonight, and Michelle (McGrady) performed a great vault."

Illinois started of the competition on the dreaded balance beam and didn't count any major mistakes en route to a 48.525 on the event. Pomeroy and sophomore Kim Kruk led the way, each with a 9.775 to tie for 17th place. McGrady scored a 9.700, Sarah Schmidt a 9.650 and Nicole Cowart a 9.625 to contribute to the team total.

After a bye in the second rotation, Illinois moved onto the floor exercise in rotation number three where it put a team score of 48.450. Cowart led the way with a stellar 9.825 effort which placed 10th overall. Marijka Botterman scored a 9.725 in the leadoff slot, Krystal Melcarek turned in a solid 9.700 and Lindsey Smith and Sarah Schmidt rounded out the scoring with 9.600s.

The Illini then moved to vault, where they posted an impressive score of 48.800. McGrady's 9.850 tied four other individuals for second place behind Stanford's Liz Tricase's 9.900. Cowart tied for eighth with a 9.800 and Kruk and Botterman tied for 17th with 9.750s.

After another bye, the Orange and Blue finished on the uneven bars, where they posted their highest event of the night, 48.850. Cowart tied for fifth with a 9.800, just behind Pomeroy's 9.825, and Melcarek and Schmidt both tied for 14th with 9.750s. Kruk (9.725) and Botterman (9.700) also turned in solid performances.

Cowart was the top Illini all-arounder, taking eighth place with a score of 39.050. Botterman (38.575) and Schmidt (38.550) finished 11th and 12th in the all-around, respectively, while Kruk (38.375) was 18th out of 22 all-around competitors.

The fourth-place regional finish wraps up a successful season for the Orange and Blue. Here are the some of the highlights:
- Fourth Place finish at the NCAA South Central Regional, equaling the highest-ever regional finish for Illinois
- Head Coach Bob Starkell wins South Central Regional Coach of the Year Honors
- Third Place finish at the Big Ten Championships, the highest for Illinois in 17 years
- Cara Pomeroy wins Big Ten Uneven Bars Title, the first UI individual Big Ten Champ since 1999
- Final national ranking of 20th, the highest-ever final rank for a UI squad