Jan. 16, 2014
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The No. 13 Fighting Illini women's gymnastics team returns to Champaign where they'll have their home opener Saturday, Jan. 18, at 4 p.m. inside Huff Hall. Illinois will play host to Centenary College and Wisconsin-Eau Claire in its first tri-meet of the young season. Doors open one hour before the start of the meet and admission and parking is free for all fans.
LAST TIME OUT
In the 2014 season opener, the Illini invaded the Jenison Field House in East Lansing and claimed its fourth Victory Plank by defeating the Spartans 195.325-194.150. Since the trophy's creation in 2010, the Illini have yet to surrender it to the Spartans. The day also witnessed a lot of great individual performances from the Orange and Blue as the Illini earned titles on all four events. Amber See delivered the third highest all-around score in her career with a 39.250. The senior also won the vault title with a 9.85 and the floor title with a 9.9. Finally, Jordan Naleway took home her first collegiate bars title with a career high 9.825 while Elizabeth McNabb gained her third career beam title with a career high 9.875.
The Fighting Illini's victory over Michigan State was not only a strong debut but also a historic one. The squad's 195.325 was the highest score to open a season in school history and the first one to score above a 195. Retrospectively, the three years (2009, 11, 13) the Illini qualified for the NCAA Championships, the teams averaged a 193.783 in week one action. At Michigan State, the Orange and Blue tallied a 48.775 on vault, 48.350 on bars, 49.275 on beam and a 48.925 on floor. Finally, the 49.275 was the highest ever score recorded on an event in an Illinois season opener as well.
BEAMING WITH DELIGHT
More impressively in the historic start for the Illini was its start on the balance beam. At Michigan State, Illinois scored a 49.275, which marked the third highest score in school history on the apparatus. Only the 2011 team has done better, scoring a 49.325 at Michigan State on Feb. 25 and then the record mark of 49.375 at the State of Illinois Classic on March 12. Furthermore, the Illini's 49.275 on beam was the second best score in week one college gymnastics. Only Oklahoma achieved a higher mark with a 49.375.
Individually, the Illini sent all five girls in its beam lineup to the podium. Elizabeth McNabb led the way in first place with a 9.875. Sunny Kato, Sarah Fiedler, Emily Lennon and Amber See all followed suit in a four-way tie for second place with a 9.850 each.
I'M COMING HOME
The Illini will make its 2014 Huff Hall debut this Saturday against Centenary College and Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Illinois has had much success in its home openers with Coach Landrus at the helm. In her interim year, Landrus' Illini defeated Iowa 194.775-193.475. In 2012, they downed Big Ten foe Minnesota 194.725-192.800. Then last season, Illinois triumphed over Michigan State 196.125-193.350.
ILLINI IN THE RANKINGS
After a great week one start, Illinois found itself ranked highly both as a team and individually. The squad climbed three spots to No. 13 in the country with its 195.325. The score was also the third highest in the Big Ten, only behind Michigan and 2013 conference champion Nebraska. As alluded to earlier, the Illini's beam score of 49.275 was the second best in the nation and holds the top spot in the Big Ten. Illinois' 48.925 floor exercise was ranked 18th.
The highest individual ranking belongs to Amber See, who checks in at No. 9 on floor. The senior is also ranked 15th in the all-around and 31st on vault. Elizabeth McNabb's career high of 9.875 puts the senior in a tie for 11th on beam, with the foursome of See, Emily Lennon, Sunny Kato and Sarah Fiedler all tied for 18th with their 9.850. Fiedler's strong start in the all-around (39.025) landed her in the No. 30 spot. Finally, freshman Erin Buchanan had a big debut for the Orange and Blue, now tied for 35th in the country on floor with a 9.850.
A trio of all-arounders emerged in week one in the Illini's win at Michigan State. Amber See took home the titles on vault and floor and finished second in the all-around with a 39.250, which marked the third highest score in her career. Sarah Fiedler has yet to score below a 39 in the all-around, in which her third attempt netted a 39.025 at Michigan State. Finally, Giana O'Connor returned to the fold after competing in the all-around for every meet last season. The sophomore started 2014 with a 38.650.
A FRESH DUO
A duo of freshmen made their Illini debut at Michigan State, donning the Orange and Blue for the first time. Emily Lennon was a major part of the team's beam success (49.275), tying for second place with a 9.850. Lennon's beam score was also the third best in the Big Ten. Next, Erin Buchanan contributed scores to the team's totals in vault and floor exercise. Buchanan achieved a 9.775 on vault and a 9.850 on floor, with the latter ranking in the top-10 amongst all Big Ten gymnasts.
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.
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