Alina Weinstein returns for her senior season after becoming the 10th Illini Nationals qualifier from a season ago
Jan. 7, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The University of Illinois women's gymnastics team will kick-off their 2013 season right where they concluded their 2012 campaign, ranked No. 18 in the nation. The ranking marks the sixth consecutive year and seventh overall that the Illini have achieved a Top-25 spot heading into the season. The squad will look to build upon the successes from last year, in which they sent a representative to the NCAA Championships for the fifth year in a row via winning the NCAA Regional All-Around and Beam title, produced a Big Ten Beam Champion and claimed 51 individual titles throughout the year.
“As a team and coaching staff, we are very excited to begin the 2013 season," said Head Coach Kim Landrus. "We will look at each meet as another step in achieving our end goal of qualifying to the evening session of the Big Ten Championship meet and earning a seeded spot for the NCAA Regional competition. We feel that if we are able to accomplish both of these, we will put ourselves in position to be Big Ten Champions and qualify to the NCAA National competition.”
The Illini lost two decorated gymnasts following the graduation of standouts Kelsey Joannides and Hannah Welker. Joannides, who won the Big Ten title on vault as a freshman, capped off her collegiate career with a Big Ten Beam title and became the first two-time Big Ten Champion at Illinois since the championships were officially recognized by the conference in 1982-83. In honor of her stellar senior season, Joannides was awarded First Team All-Big Ten accolades. Welker competed on bars and floor last season in which she set career highs of 9.850 and 9.775, respectively. The Illini will also be without vault and floor standout Elise Gill, as she is out for the season with an injury. Despite the loss of Joannides, Welker and Gill, the Illini return 16 of 24 routines, including All-Big Ten honorees Alina Weinstein and Amber See.
“It’s always hard to replace your graduating class, but it creates a chance for others to step up and rise to the challenge," continues Landrus. "Kelsey Joannides was a staple in our lineups for four years. Her confidence and reliability will definitely be missed; however, our younger ones had the opportunity to learn from her and I am confident that they will carry on those lessons throughout the season. Welker’s senior season was the best of her four years which is how you want each athlete to end their career. Our team understands our 'continue to learn' philosophy and has worked hard in the preseason to fill the void left by Joannides and Welker. We will look to 2012 All-Big Ten honorees, Alina Weinstein and Amber See, along with Junior Sarah Fiedler to lead the Illini squad. Sophomore, Sunny Kato and freshmen, Giana O’Connor will be two newcomers to watch.”
Landrus will begin her 11th overall year with the Illini and second at the helm of the program. Last season, Landrus coached the squad to a final ranking of 18, while three out of the four events finished in the Top-25. In the gym, Landrus primarily coaches the balance beam along with structuring day to day practices. Landrus will be surrounded by familiar faces as the coaching support staff returns fully in tact. Associate Head Coach Jay Santos returns to once again mentor the bar team. Assistant Coach Rodney Gust, will continue his role as the vault and floor coach along with Volunteer Assistant Coach, Jess Santos. Santos will also resume her role of coordinating floor music and choreography; in addition to coaching.
“The 2013 chapter of the record book will have a somewhat new look than last year. The newcomers bring a combination of power and grace that will be eye catching. Their routines, combined with those of the returnees, should give us a solid foundation that we can continue to build on throughout the season. Our success will be dependent on how they accept each challenge that arises. As a team, we have talked a great deal about controlling what they can control and using each day as an opportunity to prepare for the next opportunity. If they embrace that concept, the season will be memorable.”
This year's squad, which has a nice blend of youth and experience, will have to be proven road warriors for the 2013 season as the Illini only enjoy four meets inside the comfort confines of Huff Hall this year. The season kicks off Jan. 12 at Arizona against the host, Stanford and San Jose State. Illinois welcomes Michigan State for their first home meet Jan. 26 in their annual Pink Meet followed by Gym Jam on Feb. 16 against Iowa. The Illini wrap up their home schedule with two meets in March, including a March 2 showdown vs. Penn State and March 10 against Ball State and in-state foe UIC.
“Our schedule this year is great preparation for our Big Ten Championship meet and post season competitions. Getting the opportunity to compete in a quad meet against #6 Stanford, #19 Arizona and San Jose State is invaluable experience. Additionally, we compete against every team in the Big Ten during the regular season which is a first since I have been at Illinois. With six of the eight teams ranked in the top 25, it is sure to be a showdown every week.”
"Our return to Huff Hall on January 26 will be a much anticipated event. In addition to our Pink meet, the rival trophy with Michigan State is something that excites us. It’s a one of its kind, as Illinois Gymnastics does not have a rivalry trophy with any other school. It’s our goal to bring the VICTORY PLANK back to Champaign after sharing the trophy last year when the competition ended in a tie. The other three home meets will be ones to watch at Huff Hall. Both Iowa and Penn State are double duals with the men’s program, while our tri-meet with Ball State and UIC will also mark the last home meet for our senior class.”
The senior class includes Alina Weinstein, Jaclyn Kantecki, Macy Hyatt and Elise Gill. Weinstein returns after becoming the second ever Illini to win a NCAA Regional All-Around Title and in doing so, became the 10th individual NCAA Championship qualifier in school history. Weinstein, a former All-American, also won the Regional beam title, becoming the second Illini ever to win multiple regional titles. She posted two Top-10 scores in school history in the All-Around last year and was voted the team's Most Outstanding Gymnast.
"Alina is a true competitor. Good just isn’t enough for Alina…she wants to be great and dedicates each day to making sure she is. Her experience last year should provide her with the foundation to make her senior season her best yet. It will be rewarding to watch her on her quest to excellence.”
Kantecki ranked fourth on the team last season with three event titles. The Bridgeview native competed on vault, bars and beam in which she hit 30-of-35 routines. Hyatt competed on bars in her junior season in which she won her first individual title with a 9.775 against Minnesota.
“Jaclyn and Macy will both bring experience to their respective events. Jaclyn was a nice surprise last year when she broke into the beam lineup for the last two thirds of the season. I not only expect her to make an impact on vault and bars again this year, but also challenge for a lineup spot on beam and floor. Macy has broken into the bar lineup the past two years and I don’t expect anything different in 2013. We will look to her to bring in a consistent, solid score for the bar team. Additionally, she will provide depth to our beam lineup.”
All three members of the junior class, Amber See, Sarah Fiedler and Elizabeth McNabb, have seen time in the lineup and will be highly relied upon during the season. The class will provide key contributions and is expected to take another step this season.
See, who was a Big Ten vault champion her freshman year, is coming off a season in which she was named Second Team All-Big Ten. See won a team-high six floor titles and hit all 13 routines on the event as well, scoring a 9.850 or better 11 times. See ranked third on the team with 11 individual titles, produced 24 top-five finishes and tied the second best vault score in school history with a personal best 9.925 at UIC.
“Amber lives to compete. Every time she salutes, you know she will have her game face on. She is known for her quickness and high level of difficulty on both vault and floor. Look for her to “wow” the judges and the audience with her floor routine, along with the rest of her gymnastics.”
Fiedler competed on bars, beam and floor last season and hit 35-of-39 routines. Fiedler won her first title on bars and totaled 10 top-five finishes. Fiedler also notched career highs on all three of her events. Meanwhile, McNabb competed on beam at every meet and won her first title with a career best 9.850 vs Ohio State. McNabb hit 29-of-32 routines and was named the team's Most Improved Gymnast.
“Sarah has done a phenomenal job in the off-season to add difficulty on vault, beam and floor. Her hard work is evident as she is determined to make every turn count. She will not settle for anything less than excellent and has a work ethic that breeds success. Her lead by example attitude is very influential throughout the entire team.”
“Liz was slowed in the preseason with a nagging wrist injury. Over the last several weeks, she has turned the corner and is ready to go on both vault and beam. Look for her to regain her bar routine in the near future. She is a team player that will not only make sure that she is prepared, but will continue to help her teammates in order to elevate where we are at today.”
Next up are the sophomores, who make up the largest class of the squad. Those returning sophomores who saw action and gained experience last season include Kelsi Eberly and Jordan Naleway. Joining them is Sunny Kato and Gaby Nguyen who did not compete last year and will make their Illini debuts this January. Fellow teammate, Nikki McGarel will not be in action this year.
Eberly's main event was the floor exercise in which she competed in 10 meets last season, recording a career high 9.800 at UIC. Eberly also saw action on vault and beam. Naleway made her debut on the uneven bars towards the tail end of last season, posting a career high 9.775 and placing fourth vs. Kentucky. Naleway also saw time on the 'big stage' when she was placed in the bar lineup at the NCAA Regional.
”Kelsi Eberly has a heart of gold. She pushes herself every day because she was not satisfied with her freshmen campaign. She wants to compete on multiple events and be a main contributor to the team. I truly believe she will do anything to accomplish that goal. Jordan Naleway has worked on the little details throughout preseason and her hard work should pay off. Watch for her to make an impact right from the start on bars and floor. She will also add much needed depth to our vault and beam lineups.”
"Sunny and Gaby will be exciting as they officially begin their Illini careers in January. Sunny is beautiful to watch and has nice lines and extension throughout her body that will pull the audience in. Her bar routine is packed with difficulty which will further strengthen our lineup. Gaby has worked hard to bounce back from her injury sustained last year. Over the next couple months, she will add depth to every event. She is on a mission to compete in an Illinois leotard and will do everything in her power to ensure that happens.”
Kim Landrus and Illini nation welcomed three newcomers to the fold in Giana O'Connor (Streamwood, Ill./Streamwood), Heather Foley (Pewaukee, Wis./Waukesha) and Tori Fujinami (San Jose, Calif./Los Gatos). O'Connor has already received praise before the season started, as she, along with Alina Weinstein, were named to the Big Ten Women's Gymnasts to Watch List.
"Giana has a great deal of potential that will be fun to watch develop as the season unfolds. She is a true competitor and will be looked upon to compete in the all-around. Her high level of difficulty, coupled with consistent routines will make her standout in her first season as an Illini.”
"Heather and Tori will be eager to crack into the lineup through the season. Heather’s vault, beam and floor continues to improve and as a coaching staff we will look for her to provide depth on these events. Tori has refined her gymnastics a great deal since August. She has a true love for the sport that makes her want to excel every day she is in the gym. I think she is motivated to earn a spot in the lineup and goes about her assignments very diligently to enable her to be at her best.”
Coach Landrus’ Event-by-Event Breakdown:
“Similar to 2012, expect vault to make marked improvements throughout the year. With the departure of Kelsey Joannides and Gill out due to injury, both 10.0 vaults, we have once again had to place a lot of emphasis on developing our vaults. As a team, we have been working very hard in preseason to increase our start values on this event. Over the course of the season, we expect to be able to showcase more 10.0 vaults. Look for Giana and Alina to lead the pack with two very powerful yurechenko fulls. Additionally, we will count on Heather, Amber, Sarah, and Jaclyn to round out our vault lineup."
“Bars is an event that truly excites me heading into the season. Our high level of difficulty coupled with our consistency, could make this the strongest event in 2013. Seven returnees saw action in 2012 which will bring a wealth of experience to the lineup. Additionally, Giana and Sunny are two newcomers who are true bar workers and have the potential to score very high.”
“We return the core of our beam lineup from 2012 which should bode well from an experience factor. Additionally, we add standout beam worker, Sunny Kato, and a solid powerful routine from Giana. We pride ourselves on the little details that make a big difference. If we stick to the mental approach that we use every day in the gym, expect beam to be a strong event for us. The potential is there, now we just have to go out and perform.”
“Once again, we lost half of our floor lineup from 2012, so we will look to the returnees to step into a new role and lead a somewhat inexperienced group. Alina, Amber, and Sarah will be counted on for their showmanship, level of difficulty and consistency. Look for sophomores Kelsi Eberly and Jordan Naleway, along with senior, Jaclyn Kantecki to battle for line up spots. Giana will make a big impact with her amplitude and crowd pleasing routine. Additionally, both Heather and Tori have the potential to earn a floor spot. If we are going to be successful, it will be very important to make sure that our amplitude, execution, and style pull the judges in.”
“On any given day, five different individuals could vie for an all-around spot. Giana and Alina will be standouts on all four events, while Sarah Fiedler is expected to make her all-around debut with much improved performances from 2012. She is at her best gymnastically and it will be exciting to see her take the floor on all four events. Others that could be seen in the all-around are Jaclyn Kantecki and Amber See.”