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    Illini Ink: Women's Gymnastics Online Journal Week 25
    Junior Hannah Welker

    Junior Hannah Welker

    April 6, 2011

    Get behind the scenes of Illinois Gymnastics with Illini Ink - the weekly women's gymnastics journal. In this year's 25th edition, junior Hannah Welker gives a complete rundown of the team's regional trip to Alabama where they qualified for nationals for the second time in school history.

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    Hey Illini Fans!

    Wow, I cannot believe I am writing this and it is already April 6th! Where has the time gone? This season has flown by so fast and we are finally hitting the most important and most exciting part! This past week was a complete whirlwind, full of traveling, great people, tough competition, and amazing success!

    Last week we traveled to the great state of Alabama for the NCAA Regional Championships! Hey ya'll! Oh and by the way, Alina, Amber, and I got the chance to go in the cockpit on our first flight! It was pretty cool. It was the first time many of us had ever been to Bama, so it was quite an adventure. We were all very excited about the 75-degree weather, and enjoyed wearing shorts and t-shirts around campus. During our free time, we got the chance to explore `Bama' and enjoy the beautiful campus. Some of the girls were even lucky enough to get a tour of the football stadium, including locker rooms, practice facilities and more! I guess you could say they had connections.

    But while our free time was enjoyable, we were down south to do business. We had a job, and that job was to go out, compete, and place in the top 2 in our highly competitive regional competition, in order to qualify to Nationals! The field included the SEC powerhouse and host Alabama, along with Auburn, Kentucky, our Big Ten rival Penn State, and Central Michigan. The meet was held in an amazing facility, Coleman Coliseum, on the University of Alabama campus. One of our perks was a decked out locker room, with a big screen TV, pool table, and surround sound speakers. It was definitely special treatment.

    As we got ready in our locker room and prepared for the big day, we all kept in mind what we had been doing all year long. One routine. Just like practice. The coaches had been telling us all year to just think of it as one routine in the assignment and then you're done! We were competing for each other and for ourselves. We would focus on ourselves and our team and no one else. No matter how loud the crowd was, which ended up being pretty loud, considering they had nearly 8,000 loyal fans!

    After we finally marched out in the dark arena, with lights flashing and the fans cheering, we felt like rock stars. It was a really cool experience! We even had our own line leader named Garrett who led us where we had to go the entire meet. I think he enjoyed our enthusiasm. The meet went amazingly, with a few bumps in the road, but nothing we couldn't handle as team. Sam Perino started us off on floor, our first event of the meet, which gave us the momentum we needed for the rest of the events. I don't think any of us could have jumped higher or cheered louder after and during every routine! We truly IGNITED that night! And no matter what obstacle we faced, the meet was not over until Melissa Fernandez nailed her dismount on beam!

    With Penn State on the bars on the very last event, we knew it was going to be close. So as we sat on the floor for awards, clueless as to who had taken the number 2 spot to clinch a Nationals ticket, we were all squeezing each others' shoulders, anxious to hear the results. I'm pretty sure we all had tears of joy or close to it when Penn State was called for 3rd place! We had done it! Again! 2nd time in school history! We qualified to Nationals! As I like to say, "We made it to the ship!" All of our hard work all year long had finally paid off, and we earned our trip to the lovely city of Cleveland, OH! I told the girls I've never been more excited to go to Cleveland!

    After all of the excitement of the weekend, we are back in Kenney Gym, practicing hard for next week! The seniors all told us yesterday not to put any pressure on ourselves. We just want to go out there and show everyone in the nation what Illini Gymnastics is capable of. It's just one more routine! One more meet! One more trip to Nationals! And we plan on making it a memorable one!

    Keep reading to hear more about the road to Cleveland! Go Illini!

    - Hannah

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