Senior Nicole Cowart leads the Illini into a Big Ten showdown with Minnesota on Saturday, Feb. 20.
Feb. 17, 2010
#20 Illinois at Minnesota
Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010 // 6 p.m. CT // Sports Pavilion // Minneapolis, Minn.
No. 20 Illinois hits the road again for its final away Big Ten dual, as the Illini head to Minneapolis, Minn., to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. CT. The Orange and Blue face the Gophers for the second time this season, with the last meeting coming on Jan. 15 at the Nebraska triangular. The Illini tallied a 193.375 and finished ahead of Minnesota (192.775) in Lincoln. The last time these two teams squared off in a dual meet was Jan. 5, 2002 when the Illini fell 193.750-190.550 in Minneapolis.
Scouting the Gophers
Minnesota dropped down to No. 35 in the GymInfo National Rankings this week after losing at Michigan, 195.050-189.475. The Gophers are listed among the top 25 on the uneven bars, coming in at No. 23 this week (48.454 average). Minnesota has had much more success in home competitions than away meets this season. In home meets, the Gophers average 194.558 this year, while the average score when competing on the road is just 191.700.
After having the title of co-head coach for the past 12 seasons at Minnesota, Meg Stephenson embarks on her first year as the sole head coach of the Golden Gopher women's gymnastics program. Meg has spent the previous 12 seasons sharing head coach duties with her husband, Jim Stephenson, after serving as an assistant coach in her first five seasons.
A Look Back
Junior Melissa Fernandez won the all-around by resetting her career high (39.275) for the third straight week, as the No. 20 Illini took third at the IGI Chicago Style Invitational on Feb. 12 at Navy Pier. No. 10 Nebraksa placed first with a 196.475 followed by No. 19 Denver in second with a 195.250. Illinois tallied a 194.225 to finish in front of Iowa, who came in fourth with a 193.625. Fernandez also picked up the crown on balance beam with a 9.850, and the Illini were firing on all cylinders to start the night, posting a season-best 49.150 on vault and tying the fifth-best mark in school history.
On Feb. 14, they won the first-ever "Victory Plank" trophy with a come-from-behind victory over the No. 22 Michigan State Spartans, 195.600-195.500. Heading into the final floor routine of the meet, senior Sarah Schmidt needed to score over a 9.825 to give the Illini the win, and the All-American delivered in the clutch. The Hartland, Wis., native matched her season high with a 9.925 to win the floor crown and give the Illini the meet title by a tenth of a point.
Against MSU, Illinois continued its trend of starting the meet out right on vault by posting a 49.100, which tied the ninth-best score in school history. After the Illini struggled on bars at the Chicago Style Invite, they bounced back with a solid 49.125, which ranks as the second-best mark on the season. The Illini actually led by over a point and a half after the first two rotations, but after a rough outing on balance beam, they fell behind and were forced to finish strong.
Buckley won the all-around with a 39.200, and Cowart wasn't far behind, finishing as the runner-up with a 39.100.
Fernandez Starting to Do It All
During her first two seasons, junior Melissa Fernandez only competed in the all-around once, but this season she is one of five all-arounders for the Illini. The Eudora, Kan., native turned in career high scores three meets in a row with a 39.200 against Iowa on Jan. 30, a 39.250 against Penn State on Feb. 6 and a 39.275 at the IGI Chicago Style Invite on Feb. 12, which won the all-around title at the quad meet.
Fernandez also won the beam crown in Chicago and picked up a pair of event titles (vault, bars) against Michigan State, giving her 11 career crowns. She reset her career high on bars (9.900) and floor (9.800) against the Spartans as well.
Buckley's Breaking Records
Against the Nittany Lions, junior Allison Buckley set the school record in the all-around with a 39.525, breaking Ashley Williams' previous mark of 39.475 achieved in 2004. She now owns three of the top four all-around scores in UI history, with a 39.450 in 2008 and a 39.425 in 2009. In Happy Valley, Buckley matched her career high on vault (9.900) for the fifth time in her career to take home the title, tallied season-highs on bars (9.850) and beam (9.925) and turned in a 9.850 on floor. For the season, the Schaumburg, Ill., native has won seven of Illinois' 20 individual event titles, giving her 34 for her career, which is tied for fourth on the UI all-time list.
Illinois Career Event Title Leaders
1. Nancy Thies (1976-77) - 58
2. Cara Pomeroy (2004-07) - 41
3. Denise Lamborn (1987-90) - 38
T-4. Allison Buckley (2008-pres.) - 34
T-4. Heather Singalewitch (1987-90) - 34
6. Kim Berres (1996-99) - 32
Seniors Leading the Way
Senior Sarah Schmidt notched a career-high in the all-around (39.400), tied for first with a season high on floor (9.925), turned in a career high on bars (9.925) and posted a season-high on vault (9.800) and beam (9.750) in her best showing of the season against Penn State on Feb. 6. Schmidt's all-around score ranks as the fifth-best mark in school history, while her score on uneven bars tied the fifth-best score ever by an Illini and made her the only active gymnast on the list. Against Iowa on Jan. 30, Schmidt tied for the top spot on bars (9.850) and floor (9.825), while posting a 39.025 in the all-around. The Hartland, Wis., native now has 22 career event titles, with 11 on bars, 10 on floor and one in the all-around.
Senior Nicole Cowart delivered her best performance of the season against Oklahoma on Jan. 23, picking up her fifth career all-around title with a season-best score of 39.150, which marks her 13th career individual title. The Greenwood, Ind., native turned in season highs on vault (9.850), beam (9.750) and floor (9.825) and tallied a season-best all-around (39.150) against the Sooners.
Head coach Bob Starkell welcomes five new faces to the team this season in freshmen Elise Gill, Macy Hyatt, Jaclyn Kantecki, Abbie Leber and Alina Weinstein. Kantecki and Weinstein made their debuts at the season-opening Salbasgeon Suites Invitational, and both newcomers contributed in their first collegiate competition. Kantecki has counted both her vault and bars scores at five of the seven meets and picked up her first career event title against Michigan State on Feb. 14, tying Fernandez with a 9.850. Weinstein turned in the third-best Illini beam score at the first meet and has reset her career high on bars at the previous four meets. Hyatt debuted at the Nebraska triangular, where the Orange and Blue counted her 9.600 on vault, but was recently sidelined by an injury to her elbow suffered during practice.
Illini in the Rankings
Illinois remained at No. 20 in this week's GymInfo Top 25 national rankings. After weeks one and two, the Illini were ranked 23rd and 25th, respectively, but just missed the rankings during week three (No. 26). Allison Buckley leads the Illini in the individual rankings, holding the third-best vault average in the region and the 16th-best in the nation while finishing either first or second on vault at every meet. All five Orange and Blue all-arounders, Buckley (T-44th), Nicole Cowart (49th), Melissa Fernandez (59th), Kelsey Joannides (T-70th) and Sarah Schmidt (100), rank in the Top 100 individual national rankings.
The Illini began the season ranked 13th in the GymInfo Preseason Coaches Poll, marking the third consecutive year the program has earned its highest preseason ranking in school history. It is also the fourth time overall that the Illini have been in the nation's top 25 heading into a season, ranking 16th last year, 23rd in 2008 and 25th back in 1999 to begin the season.
Buckley Earns Big Ten Honors
Buckley was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week by the conference for the week of Jan. 18 after winning two event titles in the triangular meet at Nebraska. She finished each event with a score of 9.750 or better, while taking home the top spot in the all-around (39.275) and the balance beam (9.850). She also was the highest Illinois finisher in two other events, placing second on vault by tying her a career high with a 9.900 and third in the floor exercise with a 9.775.
Tough Tests Early
According to the latest GymInfo poll, three of Illinois' opponents from its first three meets are currently ranked in the top 10 in the nation, with Oklahoma coming in at No. 2, Oregon State at No. 3 and Nebraska at No. 10. In total, Illinois has eight opponents currently ranked in the Top 25 on its season schedule.
Big Ten Preseason Poll
Illinois was picked second by the conference coaches in the inaugural Big Ten preseason gymnastics poll, just behind early favorite Penn State. Each coach also selected two of their gymnasts to form a 14-member Gymnasts to Watch List, which included Melissa Fernandez and Allison Buckley.
Coming Up Next
Illinois returns to Champaign for a string of three straight Saturday home meets at Huff Hall. The Illini square off against No. 16 Michigan on Feb. 27 and then take on Ohio State on March 6, which will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. On March 13, the Illini will celebrate Senior Day, as they face No. 17 Missouri in the final home meet of the season.
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