Women's Gymnastics
Big Ten Championships Await #13 Illini Saturday

Amber See won the Big Ten vault title in her freshman season back in 2011.
Amber See won the Big Ten vault title in her freshman season back in 2011.

March 19, 2014

Championship Central | Printable Notes | Kato Int. |

The 13th ranked University of Illinois women’s gymnastics team will be seeking the program’s first Big Ten Championship since 1990 this Saturday, March 22, at Penn State. The Illini will compete in the evening session of the Big Ten Championships for the first time ever. The conference showdown is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. CT inside Rec Hall at University Park, Pa. Illinois will compete alongside Nebraska, Minnesota and Penn State during the evening session as Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State will compete earlier in the day at 11 a.m. CT, during the afternoon session. 

For those Illini faithful making the trip to Penn State, single session tickets will be $10 for adults and $6 for those 12 and under. For any group of 20 or more, you can purchase single session tickets for $4 per person (any ages). Single session tickets are on sale now and will be available for purchase on the day of the competition at the Rec Building at least one hour prior to the event. 

For those who can’t make it out, you can enjoy all the action from your living room, as the meet will air live on the Big Ten Network. 

By finishing in second place at last weekend’s Big Ten Quad Meet, the Illini earned one of the coveted four spots in the evening session, marking a program first. Illinois will enter with its highest RQS ever for the conference championship (196.495), soaring past the 2010 squad who entered Big Ten’s with a 196.225. They will also enter week 11 action ranked 13th in the country, tying its highest ranking at Big Ten’s as well. 

The Orange and Blue also enter this weekend’s meet ranked as the best team in the Big Ten on balance beam with a RQS of 49.175. The score is tied for eighth best in the country, which also ties the squad’s season high ranking on the event. Illinois will receive stiff competition on beam as all evening session participants including Michigan are nationally ranked in the top-15. 

Back to back Big Ten Champion Nebraska enters the meet ranked ninth in the country. The Cornhuskers shared the regular season Big Ten crown with Minnesota. Nebraska was the lone conference school to best the Illini last weekend, scoring a 197.050. NU has not scored below a 196.250 yet this season. Their best events are vault and beam where they are both ranked 10th in the country. 

Minnesota claimed first place at the other Big Ten Quad Meet in Ann Arbor, scoring a 196.7. The Golden Gophers have scored at least a 196.025 for six straight weeks, including a season high of 197.250 on March 1. Minnesota’s best two events are vault and floor where they’re ranked ninth and eighth in the country.

Penn State will look to utilize home field advantage this Saturday. The Nittany Lions claimed second at the Ann Arbor Quad Meet with a 196.475. The week before on March 8, they posted a season high of 197.2. PSU recorded a 196.675 at Rec Hall vs. the Illini earlier this season. 

Despite the afternoon session time slot, one cannot overlook Michigan who boasts the highest national team ranking at No. 8. Their RQS sits at 196.9 as they rank in the top-seven in every event except beam. The Wolverines were forced to count a fall on beam for the first time all year at the Big Ten Quad Meet, scoring a 48.075 on the event and then a 196.025 overall as a result. Michigan has tallied three scores above a 197 in 2014, including a season best 197.825 vs. UCLA and Utah on March 15. UM’s best event is floor, where they rank fifth in the country with a RQS of 49.415.

This year, the conference office named Sunny Kato and Amber See as First-Team selections and awarded Erin Buchanan and Giana O’Connor Second-Team honors. It marked the sixth straight year the Illini had at least three gymnasts claim All-Big Ten accolades.

Amber See garnered her third career All-Big Ten selection and first First-Team nod. See becomes the seventh member of quite the prestigious group of Illini gymnasts who have received at least three all-conference awards (Denise Lamborn, Ashley Williams, Nicole Cowart, Cara Pomeroy, Allison Buckley and Kelsey Joannides). See is nationally ranked 31st on vault (9.89) and 13th on floor (9.910), while ranking seventh and fourth, respectively, on those events in the Big Ten.

A Second-Team selection last season, Sunny Kato emerged with her first First-Team honor as well. Kato is ranked 23rd nationally on beam and tied for fourth in the conference with a RQS of 9.87. Kato also specializes on the uneven bars where the junior is tied for 31st in the country and tied for third in the Big Ten (9.875).

Giana O’Connor earned her second consecutive Second-Team accolade after tying for eighth in the Big Ten on floor exercise with a RQS of 9.875 (T-38th nationally). The sophomore has tied her career high of 9.9 three times on the event this season and has not scored below a 9.825 in the last three meets. O’Connor is also ranked 12th in the conference in the all-around, boasting a RQS of 39.175.

Erin Buchanan’s solid first year donning the Orange and Blue was vindicated with a Second Team selection. The freshman is tied for eighth on vault in the Big Ten (T-41st nationally) with a 9.875 and 14th on floor with a 9.865. 

In 2013, Illinois won the afternoon session and took fourth overall with a season high 196.475. In addition, Alina Weinstein and Amber See took home a second place medal on floor with a 9.95 and were named to the All-Big Ten Championship Team. To put into perspective, the 2014 Illini have either tied or bested the 196.475 five times this season. 

Throughout the 32-year history of the meet, the Illini have claimed one Big Ten title after bringing home the 1990 crown with a score of 188.750. In addition, they have won 13 individual titles, with the last one coming in 2012 by Kelsey Joannides on beam.  Illinois is one of five programs to win the conference championship along with Michigan (19), Ohio State (5), Minnesota (5) and Nebraska (2). Since that win, Illinois’ next best finishes came in 2008 and 2009, finishing as the runner-up both years. They took third in 2007 and again in 2011. Senior Amber See will look to end her Big Ten Championships the way she began her freshman year, winning the vault title in 2011. Furthermore, Illinois has produced event title winners at Big Ten’s in five of the past seven years. 

Despite the cold winter weather outside, the Illini have certainly been heating up in the gym in the last four weeks. In order, since Feb. 23, Illinois has scored a 196.775, 195.850, 197.100 and a 196.875. Thus, they are averaging a 196.675 over the last month. In addition, the Illini have scored a 49 or higher on all four events for two consecutive weeks, marking the second and third times, respectively, this season. More specifically, when looking at just the last two weeks alone, Illinois has not scored lower than a 49.125 on an event.  

On March 8, in front of over 2,000 fans inside Huff Hall, the 2014 Illini made history. The Orange and Blue broke the team total school record (196.975) set back in 2011 by scoring a 197.100 at Gym Jam vs. Lindenwood. Illinois scored over a 49 on every event; in fact, each event score made the all-time top-10 list. First, the Illini recorded the fourth best vault score with a 49.250, followed by a 49.375, the third best bars score in school history. Next, Illinois tied the seventh best beam score with a 49.175 before ending the meet with a 49.300, which tied the ninth highest floor score. 

The 2014 Fighting Illini continue to rewrite history as the season progresses. The squad now has five scores on the team total top-10 list, the most out of any other season. Illinois has not only secured the No. 1 (197.1), No. 3 (196.875) and No. 4 (196.775) spots on the list, but have done so in the last four weeks. 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  third (49.375, 3/8), fifth (49.250, 1/31), and ninth (49.225, 3/15 & 2/23) best scores in program history. Furthermore, Illinois has accomplished three scores (5x) in the top-10 balance beam list, with their highest coming on Feb. 23 with a 49.300 (third best all-time). Finally, on March 8, the Illini cracked the top-10 on floor with a season high 49.300. 

Individually, Amber See is cementing a legacy of her own in her final season. See scored the third ever 10.0 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 9.95 or higher on floor exercise in their career. 

Freshman Erin Buchanan and junior Sunny Kato made their way onto the top performances list on March 8. Buchanan tallied the third highest vault score in school history with a 9.925 while Kato recorded the second highest beam score with a 9.925 as well. 

Surpassing a 196 at a meet has always been a solid indicator of consistency for the Illini. After 11 meets this season, Illinois has surpassed the benchmark six times. Thus, the Orange and Blue have tied the team record set by both the 2010 and 2013 squads, who hit a 196 or higher six times. 

Illinois has received several tremendous performances from its gymnasts in 2014, as they have collectively scored a 9.9 or higher 29 times. Diving deeper, the Illini have recorded six 9.925’s, one 9.95 and one perfect 10. Freshmen Erin Buchanan and Emily Lennon have contributed a combined six scores of 9.9 or higher. Sarah Fiedler is recorded a career high 9.9 on beam on March 8 while fellow senior Liz McNabb recorded a career high 9.9 on beam on Jan. 31.  Giana O’Connor accomplished a career high of 9.9 on beam on Feb. 23 and has tied her career high of 9.9 on floor three times this season. Sunny Kato has led the Illini on bars and beam, scoring a 9.9 or higher a total of seven times on both events. However, Amber See leads Illinois with ten total times she has hit the mark. See has achieved the feat four times on vault and an impressive six times on floor. 

As the 2014 regular season came to a close senior Amber See picked up her second Big Ten Event Specialist of the Week award on March 17. The Minnesota native earned her fourth career weekly honor after tying for first (9.9) on vault, finishing in second on floor (9.925) and tying her career high on beam (9.85), all at the Big Ten Quad Meet. 

On Feb. 24, the Illini picked up multiple Big Ten weekly honors in the same week for the first time in school history. After the 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 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. The Virginia native became the first Illini gymnast to win Freshman of the Week three times in a season. 

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. As a result, Buchanan and Lennon made history, becoming the first Illinois duo to both win Freshman of the Week in the same season. 

The Illini claimed back to the No. 13 in the country for the third time this season, previously holding the spot back on March 3. As mentioned earlier, Illinois jumped three spots on beam to No. 8 this week and also moved up two spots on vault to No. 18. More impressively, the Illini have a RQS of at least 49.130 on every event, as they are ranked in the top-20 on all four events as well. The Illini’s RQS is the highest it’s been all season (196.495), as it ranks third in the Big Ten conference behind Michigan (196.9) and Nebraska (196.830). 

Amber See boasts the highest individual ranking amongst Illini gymnasts, checking in at No. 13 on floor exercise. The senior’s RQS of 9.910 is also ranked fourth in the Big Ten.  See has also excelled on vault, where she is tied for 31st in the country. Sunny Kato leads the squad on bars and beam, ranked 31st and 23rd, respectively. The junior’s bars RQS of 9.875 is tied for third in the conference while her beam RQS of 9.87 is tied for fourth in the Big Ten. 

Giana O’Connor’s surge at the end of the regular season has boosted the sophomore to two top-50 rankings. O’Connor has scored a 39.1 or higher in the last three meets and in five of the previous six. As a result, the Streamwood, Ill., native is tied for 39th in the country in the all-around with a 39.175 RQS, which also leads all Illini gymnasts. Lastly, O’Connor’s best event can be found on floor exercise where the sophomore is ranked 38th with a 9.875 RQS.