Women's Gymnastics
#14 Illinois Set for Annual Double-Header Weekend

Emily Lennon is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week
Emily Lennon is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week

Feb. 19, 2014

Printable Notes | Sunday's Live Scoring | Sunday's All-Access | Friday's All-Access | Kato Interview | Lennon Interview

Week seven action marks the Illini's annual `double-header' weekend where they'll compete in two meets in three days. First up is the State of Illinois Classic on Friday, Feb. 21. All four gymnastics teams from the state will converge upon Normal, Ill. and the Horton Field House for a quad-meet at 7 p.m. Then on Sunday, the Orange and Blue return home for a top-25 clash with No. 19 Central Michigan and No. 23 Ohio State. The tri-meet is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. inside Huff Hall. For both events, doors open one hour prior and admission is free.   

The Illini may have received a small margin loss of 196.675-196.500 at No. 21 Penn State last Saturday but there were plenty of positives to take away. First, the 196.500 was not only a season high, but also the sixth highest score in school history. Secondly, Illinois finished the meet strong, scoring a 49.250 on floor and a 49.175 on beam. Thirdly, Sunny Kato collected her third bars title of the season, Giana O'Connor claimed her first ever floor title, and Emily Lennon earned her first career title on beam. All three scored a 9.900 to win their respective events.    

Northern Illinois is ranked the highest of the three opponents Friday, checking in this week at No. 49 with a season average of 192.845. The Huskies have competed against a Big Ten opponent already, losing 196.625-192.525 to Nebraska on Jan. 11. Their best event is the balance beam where they average a 48.020. UIC is fresh off of a 193.175-193.100 win over Texas Woman's. The Flames are ranked 52nd with a season average of 191.800. UIC excels at balance beam, ranked 35th in the country with a 48.529 average, while their other three events rank in the 50's. Host Illinois State is 61st with an average of 189.957. Their best event is bars where they average a 48.079. 

Sunday's tri-meet will pit three tops all in the top-25. Central Michigan is ranked No. 19 this week with a 195.441 average. They are ranked right behind the Illini on floor (No. 14) with an average of 49.078. The Chippewas will also challenge the Illini on beam, ranked 14th with a 48.825 average. Central Michigan has proven capable of posting big scores this season, hitting 196.500 or higher twice this month. Meanwhile, Ohio State checks in at No. 23 with a 195.254 average. The Buckeyes best event is also on beam where they're ranked 19th with a 48.692 average. Ohio State lost three straight Big Ten dual meets before defeating Iowa last weekend by the score 195.275-195.075. The Buckeyes sit in sixth place in the conference rankings. 

The Illini will look to continue its dominance and add to its rich history made at the State of Illinois Classic. Illinois has been the winner of six consecutive State Classics, scoring higher than a 196 in four of the last five. In 2010, the Illini posted the second best bars (49.450) and floor (49.450) score in school history at the quad-meet. Then the 2011 squad recorded the highest team total ever recorded at Illinois with a 196.975, including the beam record of 49.375. Just last season, Alina Weinstein stole the show as the alum scored a perfect 10 on vault and set the 39.625 all-around record. Finally, during the program's six meet winning streak, Orange and Blue gymnasts have captured an impressive 31 individual titles. 

Illinois' beam lineup has cracked the top-10 in the country as they average a 49.013 on the apparatus. The Illini also leapfrogged Michigan in the Big Ten beam rankings and now sit in second place on the event. Illinois has already scored 49 or higher four times on beam this season, closing in on the seven times they achieved the feat in 2013. In the season opener, Illinois scored the third highest beam score in program history with a 49.275. Sunny Kato and Liz McNabb have each won three titles on beam while Emily Lennon collected her first ever title on Feb. 15 at Penn State. The trio have all scored a 9.900 on beam this season. 

The Illini inched up the floor rankings to No. 13 this week with a 49.092 average, their highest amongst all events. Illinois scored at least a 49.050 for three straight weeks from Jan. 18-31 before hitting the benchmark once more at Penn State. Furthermore, the Orange and Blue have scored a 49.250 twice on floor this season and have earned four floor individual titles. Erin Buchanan Amber See have been a constant force on floor, not dropping below a 9.800 in the last four meets. In fact, See has hit 9.9 in three-of-six meets this year with Buchanan setting the top mark amongst Illini with a 9.925. 

On Feb. 17 the conference office named Emily Lennon Big Ten Freshman of the Week for her outstanding performances at Penn State. The honor was Lennon's first collegiate award as she joined two-time winner and teammate Erin Buchanan as 2014 recipients. More importantly, it marked the first time in program history that two different freshmen have earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week in the same season. 

Lennon tied her career high 9.825 on vault and set a new career best of 9.900 on beam against the Nittany Lions. The 9.900 earned Lennon her first collegiate title. Erin Buchanan earned her second Big Ten Freshman of the Week award on Feb. 3 after recording a 9.875 on both vault and floor in the win over Iowa. Her score on vault was a career high as she was awarded her first collegiate title on the event. The Virginia native earned her first weekly honor on Jan. 20, primarily thanks to her career high and title-winning performance of 9.925 on floor. Buchanan is tied with teammates Amber See and Giana O'Connor in winning the weekly conference honor twice in a season.

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 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 five-of-six meets this season, even accomplishing a career high 39.350 at Minnesota. In addition, See won three straight vault titles to start the season and has since added two floor titles and one all-around title to her name. 

Fiedler, who had only competed twice in the all-around before 2014, is ranked tenth in the conference with a 39.054 average. Fiedler has been the very definition of consistency. On vault, Fiedler hit a 9.700 for the first five meets before getting over the hump at Penn State with a career high 9.725. On floor, the Lake Zurich, Ill., native has scored a 9.800 in four consecutive meets. In addition, Fiedler has set new career highs on floor (9.850) and the all-around (39.200) 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 apparatus 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 six meets. McNabb has also been a solid contributor to the bars lineup, tallying a career best 9.825 twice in the last three meets. As a result, the senior has made the top-100 individual bars rankings. 

The Illini have found great success at home in 2014. 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 seventh highest score in school history with 196.475 in its win over Iowa. Through three home meets this season, the Illini are averaging 0.35 points higher at home (196.075) than they are on the road (195.725). 

The Illini are back to No. 14 in the country for the second time this season after scoring a season best 196.500 at Penn State. Therefore, the team's average jumped 0.120 points to 195.900, which is also good for third place in the Big Ten behind Michigan (196.650) and Nebraska (196.608). The Illini have seen an overall improvement across the four events 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 16.75.  

Sunny Kato still boasts the highest individual ranking amongst Illini gymnasts, ranked 12th in the country on balance beam. The junior's 9.858 average is good for second place in the Big ten, only behind Nebraska's Jennifer Lauer (9.895). Speaking of beam, freshman Emily Lennon made a huge jump, climbing 23 spots to No. 72 and three spots to No. 13 in the conference. Erin Buchanan leads the Illini on floor, tied for 29th (9.867) in the country and tied for fifth  amongst all Big Ten gymnasts. Sarah Fiedler remains in the top-50 in the all-around at No. 46 (39.054). Finally, Amber See is the Illini's top all-arounder at No. 36. See checks in at No. 7 in the Big Ten with her 39.142 average.