Women's Gymnastics
#19 Illinois Looks to Stay Unbeaten at Home vs. #22 Penn State

Heather Foley and the rest of the Illini return to Huff this Saturday at 4 pm
Heather Foley and the rest of the Illini return to Huff this Saturday at 4 pm

March 1, 2013

Complete Notes

Week 8 Notes: #19 Fighting Illini vs #22 Penn State

March 2, 2013 // 4 p.m. CT // Champaign, Ill. // Huff Hall


The No. 19 ranked University of Illinois women’s gymnastics team returns to Huff Hall in their final co-ed dual meet of the 2013 season. Both the Illini men’s and women’s gymnastics teams will welcome Penn State to Champaign for a meet start of 4 p.m. CT., on Saturday, March 2. The women’s team is also ranked inside the top-25, currently at the No. 22 spot. Interesting to note, the two squads have not battled in a dual meet since the 2010 season, in which the Nittany Lions barely edged out the Orange and Blue by a score of 196.425-196.275. However just last year at the Big Ten Championships, Illinois finished right in front of Penn State, 195.850-195.700. For the fans in attendance this Saturday, there will be raffles and prizes available with an autograph session with all the gymnasts held after the meet. 


Penn State returns to action after scoring a 196.700, their season high, for the second straight week. The first time resulted in a loss at Michigan, but last weekend the Nittany Lions emerged with the victory over MIchigan State. Penn State, who has seen much success at home, have dropped their last two meets on the road. The Nittany Lions thrive on the uneven bars where they are ranked 12th with an RQS of 49.020. In order, their next best events are vault (17th - 49.070), beam (T-25th, 48.695) and then floor (29th - 48.870). In addition, Penn State gymnasts have achieved four weekly honors this season. Sharaya Musser took home gymnast of the week, Madison Merriam was event specialist and Samantha Musto kicked off 2013 with back-to-back freshman of the week awards. 


The Illini competed fiercely at Ohio State, posting good scores on bars (48.950), beam (49.225) and floor (48.950) but it was the vault (48.325) that undid the Orange and Blue. In the end, Ohio State walked away with the 196.300-195.450 dual meet victory. Notable performances include Alina Weinstein’s 9.875 on floor which earned the senior her fourth floor title on the year. In addition, sophomore Sunny Kato recorded two second place finishes that included a 9.875 on bars and a career high 9.900 on the balance beam. 


A week after tying 2011 alum Allison Buckley for the highest all-around score in school history with a 39.550, the senior outdid herself to stand alone as one of the all-time Illini greats by achieving a 39.600 in the meet vs. Iowa on Feb. 16. The New Jersey native started the meet by scoring a 9.875 on the first three events. Then, Weinstein recorded a near perfect floor routine as she broke the Illinois floor record with a 9.975. The score bested an event record that originated in 2000 by Phaedra Dixon


On Feb. 11, Alina Weinstein earned Big Ten Gymnast of the Week honors for tying Allison Buckley’s Illinois all-around record of 39.550. So when the senior improved her score to a 39.600 the next weekend against Iowa to become the sole leader in the program’s history, the conference acknowledged her efforts once again with the weekly award. Weinstein now has three Big Ten Gymnast of the Week honors in her career and became the first Illini gymnast to win in two straight weeks. She is also the only Big Ten gymnast to win consecutively this season.

Weinstein is not the only Illini to be recognized by the Big Ten this season as Giana O’Connor was named Freshman of the Week for her performance against then No. 7 Nebraska on Feb. 1. This marked O’Connor’s first conference recognition and first weekly award of her young collegiate career. Furthermore, it was the third Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor in Illini history as O’Connor became the second gymnast to do so in the award’s short existence.   


The Illini have scored a 195 or above in five of their seven meets this season. In addition, Illinois has eclipsed the 196 mark twice, already besting last year’s squad. The Fighting Illini will look to tie the 2011 squad this weekend, who hit the 196 or above score three times. In the past five years, the 2010 squad did it best, achieving the feat an impressive six times.


The Illini have faced stiff competition in 2013, squaring off against Top-25 opponents in five of their seven weeks of competition. Illinois has faced No. 2 Michigan, No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Nebraska, No, 13 Minnesota, No. 19 Arizona and No. 20 Ohio State. This weekend, the trend continues as the No. 19 Illini battle No. 22 Penn State. 


Alina Weinstein currently sits with 11 titles in 2013 and 28 on her career. The senior is three individual titles away from tying her season high mark of 14 from a year ago, which was the ninth highest season total in program history. Her 28 career titles puts Weinstein one title away from tying Sarah Schmidt (2007-10), who sits in eighth place on the Illinois career title list. No. 7 Kim Berres (1996-99) is four away with 32, while former teammate Kelsey Joannides achieved 33 and is sixth all-time. 


Though she may be a sophomore, 2013 marks the first year of competition for Sunny Kato, who experienced a season ending injury a year ago. The California native has been a fierce competitor for the Illini on the bars and beam, not scoring below a 9.800 on both in the last two meets. In fact, Kato has produced the highest score on bars for the Orange and Blue for the past three meets. Kato earned her first collegiate title at Michigan, when she tied for first on beam with a 9.825. Furthermore, in front of 2,316 fans at Gym Jam, Kato set a career high 9.900 on bars and walked away with her first title in said event. One week later at Ohio State, Kato set a new career high on beam with a 9.900 as well.  


Giana O’Connor is officially half-way through her freshman year and has impressed many along the way. O’Connor has competed in the all-around in all seven meets this season, scoring at least a 39 in four of them. In the first home meet against Michigan State, O’Connor produced a season high mark of 39.250. A week later at Nebraska, O’Connor’s 39.050 edged out teammate and Illinois all-around record holder Alina Weinstein for the first time all season and earned the Streamwood, Ill. native Big Ten Freshman of the Week. O’Connor currently has season high scores of 9.825 on vault, 9.775 on bars and 9.850 on beam and floor. 


The Illini are ranked No. 19 in the nation for the second time this season, dropping just one spot. The Orange and Blue started the season ranked 18th before dropping off into the mid-20’s. Illinois rallied back to the high teens the past couple of weeks and looks to continue the upward trend at the tail end of the season. Individually, Alina Weinstein is nationally ranked in the Top-10 in both the all-around (8th - 39.355) and floor (10th - 9.890). This marks the first time this feat has been achieved since March 2011, when Allison Buckley was ranked ninth in the all-around and fifth on floor. Furthermore, Weinstein’s RQS score in the all-around is the third best amongst all Big Ten gymnasts. In addition, Giana O’Connor boasts two Top-50 rankings. The freshman is ranked 36th in the All-Around (38.935) and 45th on the balance beam (9.810).


The Illinois women’s gymnastics team is undefeated at 2-0 inside Huff Hall. In their first home meet vs. Michigan State on Jan. 26, the Illini downed the Spartans 196.125-193.350 in their annual Pink Meet. Next up was Iowa on Feb. 16, where Illinois pulled off a last second rally and defeated the Hawkeyes 195.975-195.875 at Gym Jam. The Orange and Blue have two more home meets this season, including this weekend’s encounter vs. Penn State. The Illini wrap up their home schedule March. 10 when they host Ball State and UIC for Senior Day. 


The Illini lost two decorated gymnasts following the graduation of standouts Kelsey Joannides and Hannah Welker. Joannides, who won the Big Ten title on vault as a freshman, capped off her collegiate career with a Big Ten Beam title and became the first two-time Big Ten Champion at Illinois since the championships were officially recognized by the conference in 1982-83. Welker competed on bars and floor last season in which she set career highs of 9.850 and 9.775, respectively. The Illini return 16 of 24 routines, including All-Big Ten honorees Alina Weinstein and Amber See. Illinois will look to improve upon last season’s mark of securing 51 individual titles.


The Illini engage in border war action next when they travel to Columbia, Mo., to clash with the Mizzou Tigers on Friday, March 8, at 6:30 p.m. CT. The the Orange and Blue have a quick turnaround and return home for their last home meet of the season against Ball State and UIC on Sunday, March, 10, at 2 p.m. CT. 

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