Women's Gymnastics
#14 Illinois Hosts Top Big Ten Squad #6 Michigan

Erin Buchanan is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week
Erin Buchanan is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week

Feb. 5, 2014

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The No. 14 Fighting Illini women’s gymnastics team will remain in Huff Hall for the second straight week and welcome the top-team in the Big Ten, No. 6 Michigan. The meet is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and will be streamed on the Big Ten Digital Network - via All-Access. Doors open one hour prior and admission is free. Friday’s meet also marks International Student Night. 

The Illini claimed a Pink Meet victory over the visiting Iowa Hawkeyes on Jan. 31 inside Huff. Illinois tallied a 196.475, tying the sixth highest score in school history and the season high from a year ago. The Illini scored season highs on vault (49.025) and bars (49.250), with the latter tying the fourth best all-time bars score. Illinois claimed titles on each event as followed: Erin Buchanan - vault; Sarah Fiedler and Sunny Kato - bars; Elizabeth McNabb & Kato - beam; See - floor; See - all-around. 

The sixth ranked Wolverines are off to another great start in 2014. Michigan is 7-0 with wins over No. 23 Ohio State and Michigan State. They are the top-ranked team in the conference and rank first on vault and bars in the Big Ten as well. Michigan’s team average currently sits at 196.863 as they posted a season high of 197.325 against the Buckeyes on Jan. 25. Michigan and Illinois squared off three times last year, finishing first and second respectively at the Morgantown Regional to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Michigan’s best event is the uneven bars, where they average a 49.269. Last week, the Wolverines posted a season best 49.475 on bars. Finally, Michigan is 48-9-1 all time vs Illinois.

Joanna Sampson returns once again to lead the Wolverines. Sampson broke out in 2013, claiming the NCAA Floor Championship, 2013 Big Ten Gymnast of the Year and earned three NCAA All-American awards. Sampson is the current Big Ten Gymnast of the Week and arrives in Champaign after winning the all-around in her last eight regular season meets. Sampson is ranked second in the country in the all-around with a 39.519 average. In addition, Austin Sheppard is having no sophomore slump. A two-time Big Ten Event Specialist of the Week, Sheppard is ranked third in the nation on vault with a 9.925 average, nearly hitting a perfect 10 last week with a 9.975. Sheppard has won vault in each of her first four meets this season. 

Friday’s meet vs Michigan will be unique for it will be the first time in three years that the Illini have had back-to-back meets in Champaign. This season, the Illini have found great success at home. On Jan. 18, the Orange and Blue took first place in its tri-meet vs Centenary and Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a 196.175. Then on Jan. 31, Illinois tied the sixth highest score in school history with 196.475 in its win over Iowa. Thus, through four meets this season, the Illini are nearly averaging one point higher at home (196.325) than they are on the road (195.338). 

The Orange and Blue bounced back up in the top-25 rankings after a strong 196.475 showing in week four action vs. Iowa. The Illini moved up three spots to No. 14 in this week’s poll with a 195.831 average. They currently sit third in the Big Ten behind Michigan (196.863) and Nebraska (196.575). The Illini’s best two events are beam and floor, both ranked in the top-15. Beam checks in at No. 10, with a 48.988 average, while floor is ranked 14th with a 49.100, the Illini’s lone event with an average above 49. 

The Illini had several gymnasts move up in the individual rankings after many solid week four performances. After a 9.875 on bars vs. Iowa, Sarah Fiedler moved up 22 spots in the national rankings to No. 63 and even moved up five spots in the conference rankings to No. 11. Sunny Kato jumped two slots on balance beam to No. 12. The junior is ranked second (9.869) in the Big Ten, just behind Nebraska’s Jennifer Lauer (9.888). Erin Buchanan also moved up three spots to No. 20 on floor (9.875), but remained locked in the No. 4 spot amongst Big Ten gymnasts. Finally, Amber See moved up two spots in the all-around to No. 23 with an average of 39.169. See is ranked fourth in the Big Ten in the all-around behind Michigan’s Joanna Sampson, Nebraska’s Emily Wong and Michigan State’s Alina Cartwright. 

The old motto of ‘lead by example’ definitely holds true to the 2014 edition of the Fighting Illini. Seniors Amber See, Elizabeth McNabb and Sarah Fiedler have so far saved their best seasons for last. Both See and Fiedler are competing as regulars in the all-around for the first time in their careers. See obtained her first all-around title of the year last week vs Iowa with a 39.325. In fact, See has scored at least a 39.250 in three out of four meets this season, even accomplishing a career high 39.350 at Minnesota. In addition, See won three straight vault titles to start the year and also has two floor titles to her name. 

Fiedler, who had only competed twice in the all-around before 2014, is ranked ninth in the conference with a 39.025. Fiedler has been consistent on vault, hitting a 9.700 every week. The Lake Zurich native has also set a new career high on floor (9.850) and tied her career highs on bars (9.875) and beam (9.850). 

Finally, Liz McNabb has broken out in her final year. The senior, who entered the season with two beam titles, has already won three titles on the event. Just last week, McNabb recorded a career high 9.900 on beam and has scored at least a 9.850 in three out of four meets. McNabb has also been a solid contributor to the bars lineup, tallying a career best 9.825 vs. Iowa. 

Erin Buchanan earned her second Big Ten Freshman of the Week award on Monday after recording a 9.825 on vault and a 9.875 on floor in the win over Iowa. Her score on vault was a career high as she was awarded her first collegiate vault title. Also, Buchanan has yet to score below a 9.850 on floor. Buchanan now ties teammates Amber See and Giana O’Connor in winning the award twice in a season. 

Buchanan earned her first weekly honor on Jan. 20, primarily thanks to her 9.925 on floor which was the highest mark of the home-opening tri-meet and earned the Haymarket, Va. native her first collegiate individual title.

The Fighting Illini started the 2014 season on a historic note. In week one, the squad’s 195.325 was the highest score to open a season 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. Also, the 49.275 on beam was the highest ever score recorded on an event in an Illinois season opener as well. 

In the home opening tri-meet, the Illini delivered a dominant 196.175 win over Centenary and Wisconsin-Eau Claire. It was the first time that Illinois reached the 196 benchmark in week two action. Illinois also excelled in its last event of the day, recording a 49.250 on floor. 

At Michigan State, Illinois scored a 49.275 on beam, 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. Finally, after four weeks of collegiate gymnastics, the Illini’s 49.275 on beam has only been topped by six schools. Individually, the Illini sent five girls in its beam lineup to the podium at Michigan State. 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. 



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