Giana O'Connor took home her first career beam title in the win over Michigan State last season.
Jan. 8, 2014
The No. 16 Fighting Illini women's gymnastics team will look to carry a lot of momentum into the start of its 2014 season as they ended 2013 with an 11th place finish at the NCAA Championships. Illinois will make their season debut Friday, Jan. 10, in East Lansing, where they'll compete against Michigan State. Facing the Spartans also means that the Victory Plank will be up for grabs for the fifth time in its short history. The meet is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT inside the Jenison Field House.
Last year, the Illini hosted Michigan State at home where they defeated the Spartans 196.125-193.350. Illinois then traveled to East Lansing at the end of the season for the Big Ten Championships and found great success inside the Jenison Field House, scoring a season best 196.475. Friday's meet will also be beneficial, for the Illini will return to East Lansing for the newly introduced Big Ten Quad Meet on March 15.
The 2014 Illini were ranked No. 16 in the country in the Troester GymInfo Coaches' Preseason Poll. The Orange and Blue have now landed in the Top-25 preseason poll for the seventh straight year. Counting Illinois, six Big Ten schools have earned a spot in the Top-25. Michigan checked in with the highest ranking of the group at No. 7 and was named the favorite to win the Big Ten by the conference office. Nebraska, which will be searching for its third straight Big Ten title, was ranked 10th. Rounding out the list was Minnesota at No. 14, Penn State at No. 15 and Ohio State at No. 19. In all, the Illini are slated to compete against eight teams that were either ranked or received votes in 2014.
Victory Plank on the Line
Beginning in 2010, the Illini and Spartans added a little extra incentive to their Big Ten dual meet by putting the "Victory Plank" rivalry trophy up for grabs for the first time. This traveling trophy, which was created by boosters from Michigan State, consists of a piece of a classic-looking balance beam on a platform, reminiscent of the 1970s when the beams were made of wood. Illinois and Michigan State have consistently met throughout the years since 1976, with the Illini holding a recent advantage in the series after winning seven of the past nine dual meets since 2004. The Illini have never surrendered the trophy since its inception. Illinois defeated MSU in 2010 (195.600-195.500), 2011 (195.225-195.000) and 2013 (196.125-193.350), while 2012 ended in a tie (195.175).
The Illini will look to fill the void of Alina Weinstein, who left as one of the most decorated gymnasts in school history: new program records on vault, floor and all-around, five regional titles, third on the all-time career titles list and a two-time NCAA All-American. Yet the Illini have 18 routines returning and five talented freshmen eager to crack the lineup. Sophomore Giana O'Connor and senior Amber See were named to the 2014 Big Ten Gymnasts to Watch List. The duo, along with junior Sunny Kato, were second-team All-Big Ten selections a season ago. O'Connor was a two-time Freshman of the Week, See was named to the Big Ten All-Championship team and Kato earned four individual titles last season, the second most on the team.
2013 in Review
In their third NCAA Championships appearance in five years, the Illini tied its highest finish in school history, coming in at 11th place with a 195.7. It marked the eighth year in a row Illinois finished in the Top-25.
Alina Weinstein picked up her second career NCAA All-America honor and her first ever first-team distinction after tying for first place in Session I on floor with a 9.9 at the NCAA Championships. Weinstein was the third Illini to garner multiple NCAA All-America honors and became the fourth gymnast to reach the event finals, the first in the floor exercise.
For the first time since the 2010 season, four Illini were named All-Big Ten honorees. Weinstein achieved her first career first-team accolade after ranking 11th in the country in the all-around and fourth on floor. Amber See grabbed her second straight second-team laurel, ranking 20th in the nation on floor. Finally, Sunny Kato and Giana O'Connor were both first time winners with their respective second-team honors.
2013 was a year for the record books. As a whole, the Illini accomplished program top-5 scores on each event and the sixth highest team total ever with a 196.475 at the Big Ten Championships. Individually, Alina Weinstein produced an ideal ending. The senior broke the school records on vault (10.0), floor (9.975) and the all-around (39.625).
Follow the Illini
Online: www.fightingillini.com On Twitter: www.twitter.com/IlliniGym
On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC49CFB57DA709FA6 On Facebook: www.facebook.com/IlliniGymnastics