Women's Gymnastics
#15 Illini Invade Norman to take on #2 Oklahoma

Sarah Fiedler is ranked 24th in the country in the all-around, along with teammate Amber See
Sarah Fiedler is ranked 24th in the country in the all-around, along with teammate Amber See

Feb. 27, 2014

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In week 8, the No. 15 Illinois women's gymnastics team will invade Norman, Okla. to take on one of the top teams in the nation in No. 2 Oklahoma. The top-15 showdown is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT on Friday, Feb. 28, inside the Lloyd Noble Center. General admission tickets are $8 while youth and senior citizens are just $5.   

It was a memorable double-header weekend for the Illini in which multiple records were set. Last Friday, Illinois won its seventh straight State of Illinois Classic which was highlighted by Amber See's perfect 10.0. The vault lineup also stamped their place in the record book with a 49.425, the highest score ever produced on the event. On Sunday, the Orange and Blue recorded a 196.775 in its tri-meet win over No. 19 Central Michigan and No. 23 Ohio State. The team total was the second highest in school history. 

Oklahoma is No. 2 in the RQS rankings this week, previously reaching No. 1 earlier in the season. Oklahoma is one of five schools to have a RQS above 197, as the Sooners enter Friday's meet with a 197.405. The Sooners have posted the highest score amongst all NCAA Division I teams this season, when they recorded a 198.175 on Feb. 15. Oklahoma has only two losses on the year: No. 2 Florida on Jan. 31 and No. 3 LSU on Feb. 9. The Sooners are the nation's only team ranked in the top-three on every event. Last time both Oklahoma and Illinois met, they were at the NCAA Championships last year but were in different sessions. The Sooners went on to finish in second place at the Super Six Finals. 

The Sooners utilize a variety of gymnasts for that don't have a single all-around competitor but have several gymnasts ranked highly in the latest Troester poll. A duo of Sooners ranked in the top-10 on vault include Haley Scaman and Keeley Kmieciak. Oklahoma's best competitor on bars is McKenzie Wofford, whose RQS is 9.875. Rebecca Clark leads on beam with a 9.875 RQS, good for seventh in the country. Scaman is in the top-10 once more on floor with a 9.920 RQS. 

For the first time in school history, the Illini picked up multiple Big Ten weekly honors in the same week on Feb. 24. After a record setting double header weekend, Amber See won Big Ten Event Specialist while Erin Buchanan won Big Ten Freshman of the Week. See earned the award after she scored a perfect 10 at the Illinois Classic and tied her career high of 9.950 on floor vs. Ohio State/Central Michigan. 

Buchanan earned her third freshman of the week award after she finished in the top-five in vault and floor in both meets, including a career high 9.900 on vault. Buchanan previously won on Feb. 3 when she scored a 9.875 on both vault and floor in the win over Iowa, and again on Jan. 20 after setting a career high of 9.925 on floor. 

On Feb. 17 the conference office delivered Emily Lennon her first collegiate award in the form of Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Lennon scored a 9.825 on vault and set a new career best of 9.900 on beam at Penn State. 

The 2014 Fighting Illini continue to insert themselves into the record book. The squad has produced three scores to the top-10 team totals list. In fact, on Feb. 23, the Illini recorded the second highest score ever with a 196.775, finishing just behind the program mark of 196.975 set back in 2011. On Feb. 21, the Orange and Blue recorded the highest vault score of all-time with a 49.425, topping the previous best of 49.375 set back in 2009. On bars, Illinois has achieved the fourth and eighth best scores in program history with a 49.250 and 49.225, respectively. Furthermore, Illinois has accomplished three scores in the top-10 balance beam list, with their highest coming on Feb. 23 with a 49.300 (third best all-time).

Individually, Amber See is cementing a legacy of her own in her final season. See scored the third ever 10.0 in Illinois history on Feb. 21 and was the second to do so on vault, following in Alina Weinstein's footsteps. In addition, See continues to excel on floor, posting a 9.95 on Feb. 23. Thus, See and Weinstein are the only two gymnasts to record three scores of 9.950 or higher on floor exercise in their career. 

Scoring a 196 or higher has always been a solid indicator of consistency for the Illini. Through eight meets this season, Illinois has surpassed the benchmark four times. In fact, they've recorded three scores in the top-10 list, each of them 196.475 or higher. They have a season high of 196.775 set on Feb. 23. As a result, the Illini have a 196.000 average for the first time in program history. Furthermore, the Orange and Blue sit two high scores away from another team total record, which is the six times that both the 2010 and 2013 squads recorded a 196 or higher. 

Three freshmen have sparked the 2014 season for the Fighting Illini. Erin Buchanan and Emily Lennon made history together, becoming the first Illinois duo to both win Big Ten Freshman of the Week in the same season. In addition, Mary Jane Horth has emerged the last two meets on bars and provided quite the boost on the event. 

Buchanan became the first Illinois gymnast to win Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times in a season. Buchanan has been very consistent all year, for the Virginia native has not dropped below a 9.825 all season on floor and in the last five meets on vault. Buchanan has also posted career highs of 9.900 on vault and 9.925 on floor. Lastly, Buchanan has one floor and one vault title so far to her name. 

Lennon has steadily improved her vault throughout the season. The freshman has hit a 9.825 or higher in three of the last four meets, including a career high 9.900 on Feb. 21. Lennon has also found success on the balance beam, where she has recorded scores of 9.800 or higher four times. Lennon's career high of 9.900 on beam won the Calgary native her first individual title of the season. 

Finally, Horth has worked her way into the bars lineup starting on Feb. 21. On the double header weekend, Horth recorded a 9.875 on bars on Friday, finishing in second place at the State of Illinois Classic; then, followed that with a 9.825 vs. Ohio State/Central Michigan that Sunday. 

The Illini bars and beam specialist Sunny Kato continues to improve in her junior year. Kato has already doubled the amount of individual titles she won from a year ago, currently sitting with eight. Kato has won four titles on bars and four titles on beam. In addition, the junior has scored a 9.900 three times on bars and once on beam this season, thus totaling 9.900 eight times overall in her career. Furthermore, Kato has hit 9.900 on bars in two of the last three meets and has not scored lower than a 9.825 on beam all year. Kato currently holds the anchor position on both events. 

On Feb. 21, Amber See forever etched her name in Illinois history when she scored the program's third ever perfect 10.0. The senior accomplished the impressive feat on vault, tying the program record set by Alina Weinstein just last season. The first ever Illinois 10.0 came from Cara Pomeroy on bars in 2004. See was the ninth gymnast to score a 10.0 this season and the third to do so on vault. 

Illinois' beam lineup has cracked the top-10 in the country as they average a 49.045 and are ranked ninth on the apparatus. The Illini also hold the No. 2 spot in the Big Ten beam rankings, just 0.045 points behind Nebraska and 0.15 points ahead of Michigan. Illinois has scored 49 or higher five times on beam this season, closing in on the seven times they achieved the feat in 2013. Furthermore, the Illini have recorded three scores in the all-time top-10 beam list, including their season high of 49.300, which ranks as the third best score. 

Sunny Kato, Liz McNabb and Emily Lennon have combined to win eight individual titles for the Orange and Blue this year. Kato currently holds the most with four, recently winning at the State of Illinois Classic on Feb. 21. Liz McNabb follows right behind with three while Lennon won her lone title at Penn State on Feb. 15. The trio have all scored a 9.900 on beam this season. 

The Illini's highest RQS can be found on the floor exercise where they are ranked 13th in the country with a 49.145. Illinois has scored higher than a 49 in six of its eight meets, including its last three. Furthermore, Illinois has posted three scores of 49.250 or higher, including a season high of 49.275. Floor is also where you can find the most Illini gymnasts ranked in the top-100 (currently have five). 

The Illini boast five total individual titles on floor this season. Amber See leads the pack with three, last winning on Feb. 23 with a career high 9.950. Erin Buchanan won her lone title when she scored a career high 9.925 back on Jan. 18. Finally, Giana O'Connor won her first career floor title at Penn State on Feb. 15 when she tied her career high of 9.900. 

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 have competed in the all-around this year, with the latter doing so in every meet thus far.

See obtained her lone all-around title of the year vs Iowa on Jan. 31 with a 39.325. See also recorded a career high of 39.350 at Minnesota on Jan. 25. See won three straight vault titles to start the season before picking up her fourth when she tallied the perfect 10.0 on Feb. 21. See has also won three floor titles and has scored a 9.900 or higher in four meets. 

Illinois has certainly rallied behind Fiedler, who had only competed twice in the all-around before 2014, but has performed the task in every meet this season. Fiedler is tied for 24th in the nation and tied for seventh in the Big Ten with an all-around RQS of 39.100. Furthermore, Fiedler has only dropped below a 39 just once in her entire career and has produced a career best of 39.200 twice this season. Fiedler has either tied or set new career highs in every event this year, reaching a 9.800 on vault, 9.875 on bars, 9.850 on beam and a 9.850 on floor. 

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 five out of eight meets. McNabb has also been a solid contributor to the bars lineup, tallying a career best 9.825 three times in the last five meets. 

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 tallied a 196.475 in its win over Iowa. Most recently, the Orange and Blue achieved a 196.775 in its tri-meet victory over Ohio State and Central Michigan. Thus, through four home meets this season, the Illini are averaging 0.500 points higher at home (196.250) than they are on the road (195.750). 

With RQS rankings now in full swing the Illini check in this week at No. 15 in the country at 196.065. Illinois' RQS is the fourth best in the Big Ten, following behind Nebraska, Michigan and Minnesota. After a stellar double header weekend the Illini moved up the rankings in three of the four events. The biggest jump came at vault, where the Orange and Blue moved five spots to No. 22 in the country. Illinois moved up three spots on bars to No. 14 and now have a RQS above 49. Lastly, the Illini pushed its beam ranking to singles digits, checking in at No. 9, its highest ranking of the season. 

Sunny Kato still boasts the highest individual ranking amongst Illini gymnasts, ranked 15th in the country on balance beam. The junior's 9.860 RQS is good for third place in the Big ten, only behind Minnesota's Hanna Nordquist (9.865) and Penn State's Kassidy Stauder (9.865). Erin Buchanan leads the Illini on floor, tied for 25th (9.865) in the country and tied for seventh amongst all Big Ten gymnasts. Sarah Fiedler made huge leaps on both bars and beam this week, ranked 42nd and 65th, respectively. Fiedler also moved 22 spots to No. 24 in the all-around, where she is tied with teammate Amber See. Speaking of See, the senior gained a national rank of 17 on floor.