Minneapolis Regional Awaits #11 Illinois
April 3, 2014
Saturday, April 5, marks NCAA Regionals across the collegiate women’s gymnastics world. The 11th ranked Fighting Illini will compete in the Minneapolis Regional slated for a 6 p.m. CT start time. Other teams at the regional include #2 Oklahoma, #14 Minnesota, #19 California, Southern Utah and San Jose State.
Adult general admission will be $12 and can be purchased either on site at the Sports Pavilion or online at Gophersports.com. Youth tickets are $8 while groups of 10+ can take advantage of the same rate.
Illinois’ rotation order will goes as follows: bye before floor, floor exercise, vault, bye before bars, uneven bars, balance beam.
NCAA REGIONALS IMPLICATIONS AND HISTORY
The top two teams and the top two all-arounders (who are not on an advancing team) from each regional will receive an automatic berth to the National Collegiate Gymnastics Championships April 18-20 in Birmingham, Ala. inside the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.
Illinois will look to make its fourth trip to the NCAA Championships in the past six years. Last season, the Illini usurped Big Ten champion Nebraska for the final spot at the Morgantown Regional. If successful in 2014, the Illini will punch its second straight ticket to Nationals for the first time in school history.
MINNEAPOLIS REGIONAL PREVIEW
The three seeded teams at the Minneapolis Regional all certainly enter the post-season with a lot of momentum. The Illini have tied its season high national ranking of 11th, boasting its highest RQS of the year with its 196.650. In their last three meets, Illinois has recorded three of the top four scores of the season, including the record setting 197.100. The Orange and Blue also possess a top-10 ranking on balance beam, checking in at No. 9 with a 49.175 RQS, which also stands for the best in the Big Ten conference.
Top-seed Oklahoma is looking to win its fifth straight regional title. The Sooners have already claimed victory against the Illini and Gophers this season. OU is fresh off of winning the Big 12 championship with a 198.000. In fact, the Sooners have hit that impressive benchmark now three times this season. If successful this weekend, Oklahoma will be going to its 11th consecutive NCAA Championships. Lastly, OU had five gymnasts recently named regular season All-Americans by the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women.
March was a great month for Minnesota. The Gophers started the month with a season high 197.250. On March 15, they claimed first place at the Big Ten Quad Meet in Ann Arbor, scoring a 196.7. A week later, Minnesota placed third at the Big Ten Championships with a 196.675, just barely edging out the Illini (196.625) for a podium spot.
California enters as the highest ranked unseeded team at any of the six NCAA Regional sites. The 19th nationally ranked Bears possess a 196.270 RQS and are coming off of a third place showing at the Pac-12 Championships where they scored a 196.550.
Rounding out the field is Southern Utah ranked 26th with a 195.665 RQS and San Jose State who checks in at No. 31 (195.510 RQS).
LAST TIME OUT
On March 22, the Fighting Illini finished in fourth place overall at the Big Ten Championships after scoring a 196.625. It marked the the program’s second highest team total ever scored at Big Ten’s. In addition, the Illini tallied its second consecutive 49.225 on bars and posted a season high 49.325 on floor.
LAST YEAR AT REGIONALS
In 2013, Illinois took second place at the Morgantown Regional to make its third appearance at the NCAA Championships. The Illini clinched its berth by scoring a 49.175 on beam in their final rotation. Now alum Alina Weinstein became the first Illini gymnast to win three regional titles at a single meet, finishing in first on beam, floor and the all-around.
Illinois will be looking to book their fourth ever trip to Nationals, previously punching its ticket in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
FOUR ALL-BIG TEN HONOREES
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 33rd on vault (9.89) and 17th on floor (9.91), 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 27th nationally on beam and tied for fifth in the conference with a RQS of 9.87. Kato also specializes on the uneven bars where the junior is tied for 24th in the country and third in the Big Ten (9.895).
Giana O’Connor earned her second consecutive Second-Team accolade. The sophomore is ranked in the top-50 on floor (9.885) and in the all-around (39.175). O’Connor has tied her career high of 9.9 four times on floor this season, including twice in the last three meets.
Erin Buchanan’s solid first year donning the Orange and Blue was vindicated with a Second-Team selection. The freshman is ranked 10th on vault in the Big Ten (T-44th nationally) with a 9.880 and 17th on floor with a 9.865.
The Illini have certainly been heating up in the gym in the final stretch of their season. In order, since March 8, Illinois has scored a 197.100, 196.875 and a 196.625. Thus, they are averaging a 196.867 over the last month. In addition, the three team scores have all ranked in the all-time top-10 list. Lastly, the Illini have scored a 49 or higher on 11 of the 12 events in that span.
ALL TIME SCHOOL RECORD HOLDER
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. First, the Illini recorded a 49.250 on vault, followed by a 49.375 on bars. Next, Illinois moved to beam where they recorded a 49.175 before ending the meet with a 49.300 on floor.
The 2014 Fighting Illini continue to rewrite history as the season progresses. The squad has five scores on the team total top-10 list, the most out of any other season. Illinois has secured the No. 1 (197.1), No. 3 (196.875), No. 4 (196.775), No. 9 (196.625) and No. 10 (196.500) spots on the list. 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, 3/22 & 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 22 at the Big Ten Championships, the Illini cracked the top-10 on floor with a season high 49.325.
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 THE 196 // 9.9
Surpassing a 196 at a meet has always been a solid indicator of consistency for the Illini. After 12 meets this season, Illinois has surpassed the benchmark seven times. Thus, the Orange and Blue have set a new team record surpassing both the 2010 and 2013 squads who hit a 196 or higher just six times.
Illinois has received several tremendous performances from its gymnasts in 2014, as they have collectively scored a 9.9 or higher 31 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 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 four 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 11 total times she has hit the mark. See has achieved the feat four times on vault and an impressive seven times on floor.