Senior Melissa Fernandez tied for fifth on beam at the NCAA event finals.
April 17, 2011
CLEVELAND, Ohio - At Sunday's NCAA Championship individual event finals, Fighting Illini senior Melissa Fernandez tied for fifth on balance beam and reached the event podium for the second time in her career to close out the best season in Illinois women's gymnastics history. Fernandez, who competed sixth out of the 10 finalists, recorded a 9.8375 from the panel of six judges and tied with Utah's Mary Beth Lofgren in her final time performing for the Orange and Blue.
"Today went really well on beam, and the entire experience was a lot of fun," Fernandez said. "The atmosphere is amazing at nationals, and it was phenomenal to be a part of that. It was my last time competing for Illinois, so I just tried to enjoy every moment of it. This was a great way to end my career, and I am extremely happy with how it turned out."
This marked the second time Fernandez has taken part in the NCAA beam final, as the four-time All-American matched her score of 9.8375 from 2009 when she tied for seventh and became the first Illini ever to earn a trophy at the NCAA Championships. Fernandez had only a couple small wobbles in an otherwise flawless routine before sticking her dismount to close out career at the Wolstein Center. She hit a perfect 15-for-15 on beam this season, including 12 scores of 9.825 or better.
The Eudora, Kan., native added to her hardware collection this weekend, earning an Illinois record three All-America honors during the semifinal session. Fernandez was recognized on the podium on Friday evening following the Super Six Team Final for tying for fifth in the nation in the all-around, making her the first-ever Illini to earn All-America honors in the all-around. She also garnered first-team accolades on beam and took home second-team All-America honors on floor to give her half of Illinois' six All-America distinctions.
"Melissa has had a phenomenal career at Illinois," interim head coach Kim Landrus. "It was a great way for her to end it by making the beam final and reaching the podium again. I tell her just to have fun every time she competes, and she did just that today. She stayed on the beam at every meet for two of her four years, which just speaks volumes about her consistency as a gymnast."
In her first season as interim head coach, Landrus led Illinois to its highest national ranking in school history, as the Illini wrapped up the year ranked No. 11 following their performance at the NCAA Championships. The top-12 final rankings were based on team score at nationals, with the Orange and Blue scoring a 195.100 in their semifinal, just in front of Kent State's 195.000 from the second session. Illinois' previous top finish came in 2009 when the Illini made their first NCAA appearance and placed 12th in the country.
"The whole team is excited about finishing 11th in the country," Landrus said. "We started the year off slow but just improved with every meet and were able to reach our goal by qualifying for nationals. I am so proud of the way we competed this year, and I couldn't have asked for much more."
On Saturday night at the Super Six team final, Alabama won its fifth national title, edging defending champion UCLA for the top spot, while Oklahoma came in third followed by Nebraska, Utah and Michigan. Florida, Oregon State, Georgia and Arkansas rounded out the nation's top-10 list for the 2011 season.
2011 National Collegiate Women's Gymnastics Championships - Event Finals Balance Beam Results
1. Sam Peszek, UCLA - 9.9000
2. Kayla Hoffman, Alabama - 9.8875
3. Aisha Gerber, UCLA - 9.8875
4. Natasha Kelly, Oklahoma - 9.8750
T-5. Melissa Fernandez, Illinois - 9.8375
T-5. Mary Beth Lofgren, Utah - 9.8375
7. Kylee Botterman, Michigan - 9.8250
8. Kim Jacob, Alabama - 9.8125
9. Megan Ferguson, Oklahoma - 9.8125
10. Leslie Mak, Oregon State - 9.4500