Women's Gymnastics
#15 Illini Hit The Road for Dual Meet at #21 Penn State

Giana O'Connor posted the highest score in week 5 with her 9.850 on vault, which also tied her career high
Giana O'Connor posted the highest score in week 5 with her 9.850 on vault, which also tied her career high

Feb. 13, 2014

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The No. 15 Illinois women’s gymnastics team will compete against a Big Ten opponent for the fourth straight week this weekend when they travel to University Park, Pa., to battle No. 21 Penn State on Saturday. The dual meet will be held at Rec Hall and is slated to begin at 3 p.m. CT. The Illini can expect to hear a little extra support from the crowd for the Illinois men’s gym team will also be competing against Penn State at the same time. 

It was a nail-biter inside Huff Hall last Friday night as the Illini put No. 6 Michigan up against the ropes heading into the final rotation. However, the Wolverines ultimately prevailed by the score of 195.800-195.575. Giana O’Connor tied her career high of 9.850 on vault. Sunny Kato led the squad on both bars and beam with 9.800 and 9.825, respectively. Elizabeth McNabb tied Kato for second place on beam with the 9.825. Finally, Erin Buchanan produced another solid floor routine, recording a third place showing of 9.825.   

Penn State will enter Saturday’s meet ranked sixth in the conference standings and an 8-2 overall record. PSU might be coming off of a loss to Nebraska last weekend, but they scored a season high 196.150 in the process. It marked the second time this season the Nittany Lions hit the 196 mark, previously achieving the feat back on Jan. 18 in a quad meet at home; thus, PSU is proving to be a formidable opponent at home this season, with both 196's happening inside Rec Hall. Furthermore, Penn State is also coming off of a season high 49.150 on vault. The Nittany Lions best event comes on floor exercise, where they rank 19th in the country with a 48.979 average. They scored a season high 49.400 on Jan. 29 and a 49.050 in the previous two meets. 

Vs. Nebraska on Feb. 8, Penn State produced three gymnasts with all-around scores of 39.000 or higher, including Kassidy Stauder’s 39.350. Stauder ranks 24th in the country in the all-around and fourth in the conference with a 39.200 average. The senior also excels on beam where she ranks 18th in the nation with a 9.838 average. Junior Randi Lau is also ranked in the top-50 in the all-around, checking in at No. 48 with a 38.996 average. Also keep an eye on Emma Sibson on vault. The freshman posted a season high of 9.950 last weekend and has three of the top-five scores on her team on vault through the first six weeks of competition. 

A major key to the Illini’s success this year is in how they’ve finished their meets, whether it comes on balance beam or floor exercise. Illinois’ beam average of 48.980 is ranked 11th in the country and third in the Big Ten. Furthermore, it is currently 0.076 points higher than last year’s average. In fact, the Illini have already scored 49 or higher three times on beam this season, closing in on the seven times they achieved the feat in 2013. Illinois has been able to lean on Sunny Kato, Liz McNabb and Emily Lennon in the last two weeks, as the trio scored no lower than a 9.775 on beam in that span.

On floor, the Orange and Blue are ranked 13th in the country with a 49.060. They scored at least a 49.050 for three straight weeks from Jan. 18-31. Erin Buchanan, Sarah Fiedler and Amber See have been a constant force on floor, not dropping below a 9.800 in the last three meets. In fact, See has hit 9.9 in three-of-five meets this year with Buchanan setting the top spot amongst Illini with a 9.925. 

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 vs Iowa on Jan. 31 with a 39.325. In fact, See has scored at least a 39.075 in four-of-five 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 tenth in the conference with a 39.025. Fiedler has been the very definition of consistency. On vault, Fiedler has hit a 9.700 every single week. On floor, the Lake Zurich, Ill., native has scored a 9.8 in three consecutive meets. In addition, Fiedler 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 this year. Against Iowa on Jan. 31, McNabb recorded a career high 9.900 on beam and has scored at least a 9.825 in four out of five meets. McNabb has also been a solid contributor to the bars lineup, tallying a career best 9.825 vs. Iowa. 

The Feb. 7 meet vs Michigan was 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 three home meets this season, the Illini are nearly averaging 0.7 points higher at home (196.075) than they are on the road (195.338). 

After a tightly judged loss to Michigan, the Orange and Blue dropped just one spot in the top-25 rankings to No. 15 this week. The team is now averaging a 195.780, which is good for fourth place in the Big Ten behind Nebraska (196.705), Michigan (196.650) and Minnesota (195.825). The Illini have seen an overall improvement compared to last year’s NCAA Championship qualifying squad. When averaging the four event rankings together, the 2013 squad finished with an average mark of 19, while the current crop of Illini currently sit with an average of 17.  

Individually, Liz McNabb pushed herself into the top-100 national rankings after another strong showing at Michigan that saw the senior post a 9.775 on bars and a 9.825 on beam. McNabb is now ranked 97th and 87th in those two events, respectively. Sarah Fiedler remains in the top-50 in the all-around at No. 44. Sunny Kato is locked in at No. 12 on the balance beam. The junior is ranked second (9.860) in the Big Ten, just behind Nebraska’s Jennifer Lauer (9.895). Erin Buchanan leads the Illini on floor at No. 29 (9.865), and sits at No. 6 amongst all Big Ten gymnasts. Finally, Amber See is the Illini’s top all-arounder at No. 30. See checks in at No. 6 in the Big Ten with her 39.150 average. 

Erin Buchanan earned her second Big Ten Freshman of the Week award on Feb. 3 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 9.825 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 9.925 won Buchanan the Illini play of the month for January and still stands as the highest score amongst Illinois gymnasts on floor this season.