Women's Gymnastics
#18 Illini Depart for Big Ten Championships

Amber See has found success at the Big Ten Championships, winning the conference vault title in 2011
Amber See has found success at the Big Ten Championships, winning the conference vault title in 2011

March 21, 2013

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Week 11 Notes: 

#18 Fighting Illini at the Big Ten Championships

March 23, 2013 // 12:05 p.m. CT // Live on Big Ten Network

East Lansing, Mich. // Jenison Field House


The No. 18 Fighting Illini will take their 9-7 overall record into East Lansing for the Big Ten Championships, hosted by Michigan State on Saturday, March 23. Illinois will be riding a wave of momentum as they enter Big Ten's on a season high three meet win streak, that includes a pair of team scores of 196.3, their second highest marks of the season. Last year, the Illini earned fifth place at the conference championship, with Kelsey Joannides claiming the Big Ten beam championship. This year, the Orange and Blue are seeded fifth and will be the top seed in the afternoon session starting at 12:05 p.m. CT. The meet will take place inside Jenison Field House and will air live on Big Ten Network with Lisa Byington on the call. 


The Big Ten Championships consist of eight teams divided equally into two sessions. Seeds 5-8 compete in the afternoon session starting at 12:05 p.m. CT while seeds 1-4 duke it out in the evening session beginning at 5:05 p.m. CT. The No. 5 seed Fighting Illini will compete alongside No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 Iowa and No. 8 Michigan State, while the evening session consists of No. 1 Michigan, No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Minnesota and No. 4 Penn State. 

The conference once again returns a loaded field that includes six teams in the Top-20. Top-seed Michigan is ranked 4th in the nation (197.175) and 1st on floor (49.450). Nebraska enters with a No. 9 ranking (196.840) and has all four events ranked nationally in the Top-10. In addition, Minnesota and Penn State are both tied for 14th with their best rankings occurring on floor. Ohio State will also pose a challenge ranked 20th with their best event on beam (19th). Rounding out the grouping is Iowa at No. 27 and Michigan State at No. 42. 

Two-seed Nebraska will look to go 2-2 at the Big Ten Championships after taking the crown last year in their first year in the conference. One-seed Michigan will look to grab their 20th Big Ten Championship in program history and add to their conference high 77 individual titles as well. Other previous champions include the Buckeyes and Gophers with five titles each and the Fighting Illini who won the crown back in 1990. 


Nebraska junior Emily Wong returns to the conference stage where she excelled in 2012. Last year Wong claimed the beam, floor and all-around titles. This season, Wong is ranked 3rd in the nation in the all-around with a 39.550. Speaking of returning title winners, sophomore Sachi Sugiyama is back with Michigan after winning last year's vault title. The Wolverines will also utilize Joanna Sampson, who is tied with Wong nationally in the all-around. In addition, Sampson is nationally ranked first on floor (9.945) and has been named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week a conference leading five times. Also look for Penn State's Sharaya Musser who leads the Big Ten on beam with a 9.895 RQS. Last but not least, the Illini's own Alina Weinstein and Sunny Kato will be competing for their first Big Ten titles. Weinstein ranks third nationally and second in Big Ten on floor and seventh nationally and third in conference in the all-around. Weinstein also proved dangerous on vault this past weekend after scoring the school's second ever 10.0. Kato has been a major contributor on beam and bars, posting career highs of 9.9 on each, the same score Kelsey Joannides won beam with at last year's Big Ten Championships. 


This week, Weinstein earned her first career First Team All-Big Ten honors. The senior has undoubtedly saved her best season for last, for in the past month alone she has broken the Illinois records on floor (9.975), vault (10.0) and the all-around (39.625). In addition, her perfect 10 was just the second in Illini history. Weinstein also ranks seventh in the country in the all-around and more impressively, third on floor. 

Amber See grabbed her second straight second team All-Big Ten laurel. The junior's best event this season is floor where she is tied for sixth in the Big Ten with a RQS of 9.885. At the last home meet on March 10, See became one of seven gymnasts at Illinois to score a 9.950 on floor, which set a new career high for the Minnetonka, Minn. native. Speaking of new career highs, See also established a new mark in the all-around with a 39.325. 

Next up are first time winners in sophomore Sunny Kato and freshman Giana O'Connor. Kato, who is in her first year of competition for the Illini, has been instrumental for the Orange and Blue on bars and beam. The Chino Hills, Calif. native has set career highs of 9.9 on both events while also earning two individual titles on both as well. Furthermore, her four overall titles stands as the second most on the team. 

O'Connor has been a constant all-around force for the Illini in 2013. The freshman has scored above a 39 in the previous five meets, including scoring a new career high of 39.275. The Streamwood, Ill. native has also been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice, thus joining teammate Amber See as the only Illini to capture the freshman of the week honor twice in a season. Giana currently ranks eighth in the conference in the all-around and 36th in the nation. 


In 2012, Illinois took fifth place at the Big Ten Championships. The Orange and Blue hit bumps in the road on vault and floor,  but scored the highest beam score of both sessions (48.9) and tied for the second highest bars score (49.1). The Illini also brought home a Big Ten beam champion in Kelsey Joannides, who scored a 9.9 on the event. She became the 13th individual in Illinois history to win a Big Ten title. 


Throughout the 31-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 (1). 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. Junior Amber See is the lone Illini on the 2013 squad to have found success at the Big Ten Championships, winning the vault title in 2011. Furthermore, Illinois has produced event title winners at Big Ten's in five of the past six years. 


The then #17 Illinois women's gymnastics team wrapped up their regular season on a high note, as their team score of 195.700 earned the squad the State of Illinois Classic meet victory over UIC (193.350), Illinois State (194.075) and Northern Illinois (192.675) for the sixth consecutive year. However, it was Alina Weinstein who stole the show as her season of record breaking performances continued, this time scoring a perfect 10 on vault and setting a new Illinois record in the all-around with a 39.625. 


On March 16, at the State of Illinois Classic, Alina Weinstein accomplished a feat that had only been done once before in Illini women's gymnastics history. The senior scored a perfect 10, the first since Cara Pomeroy achieved the mark in 2004 on the uneven bars. It was the third perfect 10 on vault in all of NCAA Division-I this year and the seventh overall including all events. In the process, Weinstein broke the Illinois vault record set by Marijka Botterman (9.95) in 2009. 


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.  However, the New Jersey native wasn't done there. In the last meet of the regular season on March 16, Weinstein once again set a new mark, this time scoring a 39.625. Weinstein started on bars where she tied her season high of 9.900. Next, Weinstein moved to beam where she tallied a 9.800. Then, the Illinois floor record holder posted her fourth straight score above a 9.9 with a 9.925 before ending the day perfect on vault.


This past Monday, the Big Ten office named Alina Weinstein Big Ten Gymnast of the Week for the third time this season. The announcement came on the heels of the senior scoring a perfect 10 on vault and pushing the all-around record to 39.625. Alina Weinstein becomes the first Illini to secure three Big Ten Gymnast of the Week awards in the same season and just the second to capture four in her career, alongside 2011 alum Allison Buckley. Weinstein was also the first Illini gymnast to win the award in consecutive weeks, accomplishing the feat on Feb. 11 and then on Feb. 18. 


On Senior Day on March 10, the Illini posted a season high on floor and the fourth highest team score in school history in the event with a 49.425. Jordan Naleway (9.800), Tori Fujinami (9.800), Giana O'Connor (9.850) and Heather Foley (9.850) all contributed to the team total. Amber See set a new career high when she tied the second highest score in Illinois history on floor with a 9.950. See is now one of seven Illinois gymnasts to achieve such a score. Furthermore, the junior achieved her first floor title of the season at Missouri on March 8 when she scored a 9.925. Finally, Alina Weinstein continued her tremendous year on floor when she tied the Illinois record she broke on Feb. 16, by posting a 9.975 on Senior Day. This past weekend at the State of Illinois Classic, the senior captured her seventh floor title of 2013 and the sixth in the previous seven meets. 


The month of March has witnessed the emergence of an Illinois triple threat in the all-around competition. The ever diligent Alina Weinstein continues to pave the way and lead by example. The senior has scored at least a 39.325 in six of the previous seven meets. Next, Giana O'Connor has been a consistent all-arounder this year but really broke out the weekend of March 8 when the freshman tallied a new career high of 39.275 not once but twice. In addition, O'Connor has scored above a 39 in the last five meets. Last but not least is junior Amber See, who has been in and out of the all-around competition this year. If called upon, See has shown the ability to score a 39.325, a new career high she set on Senior Day on March 10. 


After sweeping all the events at the State of Illinois Classic, Alina Weinstein now has 23 titles in 2013. That season total puts the New Jersey native in third place on the Illinois single season event titles list. In addition, her 40 career titles puts the senior in sole possession of fourth place on the all-time Illinois title list. Weinstein is just one title shy of tying fellow Illini perfect 10 member Cara Pomeroy (2004-07) for third place. The top two spots belong to Nancy Thies with 58 titles and Allison Buckley with 62. 


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 instrumental for the Illini on bars and beam. Kato earned her first collegiate title at Michigan on Jan. 19, when she tied for first on beam with a 9.825. Next, in front of 2,316 fans at Gym Jam on Feb. 16, Kato set a career high 9.900 on bars and walked away with her first title in the event. One week later at Ohio State, Kato set a new career high on beam with a 9.900 as well. Then during the double meet weekend on March 8 & 10, Kato continued to shine earning another title on beam and bars while tying her career highs on both. Thus, her four overall titles stands as the second most on the team. Finally, Kato will look to continue her hot streak on bars where she has scored a 9.85 or higher in five of the last seven meets. 



Giana O'Connor  has impressed many along the way in her freshman campaign. O'Connor has competed in the all-around in all 11 meets this season, scoring at least a 39 in the previous five. On Feb. 1 vs. 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. On the double meet weekend on March 8 & 10, O'Connor not only achieved a new career high in the all-around but also did it twice, scoring a 39.275 both times. As a result, O'Connor garnered her second Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. Therefore, she joins teammate Amber See as the only Illini to capture the freshman award twice in a season. 


The Illini have scored a 195 or above in nine of their 11 meets this season. In fact, The Orange and Blue have not dropped below a 195.7 in their previous four meets, a stretch that saw the squad post two totals of 196.3. Thus, Illinois has eclipsed the 196 mark four times this year, besting the 2011 NCAA Championships qualifying squad, who hit the 196 or above score three times. In the past five years, the 2010 team did it best, achieving the feat an impressive six times.


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.


On Monday, March 25, the NCAA and WebStream Sports will be producing a National Collegiate Women's Gymnastics Selection Show. The show, which will air on NCAA.com at 2:00 p.m. CT, will reveal the teams moving on to the postseason.  


Keep up with all the latest news, updates and videos from the women's gymnastics team on the internet.

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