Sarah Schmidt and the Illini are hoping to earn a spot at the National Collegiate Championships this weekend at the South Central Regional in Norman.
April 9, 2008
Saturday, April 12, 2008 // 6 p.m. CT // Lloyd Noble Center // Norman, Okla.
The 24th-ranked Fighting Illini women's gymnastics team heads to Norman, Okla., to compete in the NCAA South Central Regional this Saturday, April 12th, at 6 p.m. CT. Illinois enters the competition as the fifth seed in the six-team field, joining No. 4 Alabama, No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 16 Boise State, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 36 S.E. Missouri State.
The Illini are coming off an impressive showing at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago in Ann Arbor, Mich., where they posted a season-high score of 195.750 to take second place.
Back to Regionals: This year marks Illinois' fifth straight NCAA Regional appearance and will be the program's 21st overall appearance at regional competition.
Crall Wins Big Ten Title: Junior Julie Crall won the 2008 Big Ten Balance Beam title with a career-high tying 9.900 to give the Illini an individual Big Ten champion for the second consecutive season. Former Illini Cara Pomeroy won the 2007 Big Ten Uneven Bars title.
Buckley Honored by Big Ten Conference: Freshman Allison Buckley became the second Illini in school history to be named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year. In addition, Buckley was also honored as a first team All-Big Ten selection.
Making Noise at Big Tens: As a team, the Illini took second place at the Big Ten Championships, the highest finish in the conference meet since it won the competition in 1990.
Regional Championship Preview
Illinois enters the South Central Regional seeded fifth in the field of six teams that are vying for the two coveted spots to the NCAA Championships. No. 4 Alabama (196.870), No. 10 Oklahoma (196.450) and No. 16 Boise State are the three seeded teams assigned to the regional, while Arizona State (195.405), Illinois (195.125) and Southeast Missouri State round out the regional as seeds 4-6, respectively. Along with the six teams that qualified for the regional, individual competitors from Northern Illinois, Illinois-Chicago, Texas Women's University and Illinois State will compete in all four events and the all-around. The Illini will begin the championships on floor and follow the same rotation they had at the Big Ten Championships.
Advancing to the Next Level
The top two teams from each of the six regional sites around the country will advance to the National Collegiate Championships April 24-26 in Athens, Ga. In addition, the top two all-arounders not on a qualifying team advance, as well as each event winner if they are not already qualified with a team or as an all-arounder.
The Best in the Region
Vault: Alabama's Kayla Hoffman enters the competition as the top vaulter at the regional. She is currently ranked fifth in the nation with a RQS of 9.935. Freshman Allison Buckley heads the Illini with a 9.860 RQS, which currently ranks 46th in the nation and seventh at the regional.
Bars: Kassi Price of Alabama tops the regional gymnasts on bars with an event RQS of 9.920, ranking her in a tie for third nationally. Illinois sophomore Sarah Schmidt leads the Illini with a 9.820, ranking her 11th at the regional.
Beam: Oklahoma's Haley DeProspero enters this week's regional as the favorite on the balance beam. She is currently ranked fifth in the nation with an event RQS of 9.900. Junior Julie Crall is the top Illini representative on this event with a 9.875, tying her for second at the regional with Oklahoma's Hollie Vise.
Floor: Kiara Redmond-Sturms of Oklahoma and Morgan Dennis of Alabama head the regional competitors on floor. They are currently tied for second in the nation with a 9.935 RQS. Illinois' Buckley leads the Illini with an event RQS of 9.885, ranking her in a tie for fourth among regional competitors.
All-Around: Oklahoma's Redmond-Sturms, with an event RQS of 39.555, is the top all-around performer in the regional, ranking third nationally. Buckley, who ranks fourth in the regional with an RQS of 39.270, paves the way for the Illini all-arounders.
Illini Regional Championship History
Illinois will be making its fifth straight, and 21st overall, appearance in the NCAA Regional Championships this weekend. The Illini's best finish at a regional meet is fourth on seven occasions, most recently last season at the Sourth Central Regional in Tuscon, Ariz. The Illini have never advanced past the regional as a team, and the last time Illinois individuals made it to nationals was in 2004, when Ashley Williams (all-around) and Cara Pomeroy (uneven bars) accomplished the feat.
Last year at the South Central Regional
At last year's regional in Tuscon, Ariz, the Illini finished fourth (194.625), which tied their best ever finish at a regional meet. Stanford (196.600) and Oregon State (196.075) finished first and second, respectively, to advance to the NCAA Championships. Michelle McGrady was the closest Illini to qualify for the NCAA championships by tying for second on vault with a 9.850. Following the meet, head coach Bob Starkell was honored as the 2007 South Central Regional Coach of the Year.
Illini Take Second at Big Tens
Illinois is coming off a second place finish at the 2008 Big Ten Championships two weeks ago in Ann Arbor, Mich., its highest finish since winning the competition in 1990. The Illini scored a 195.750, their top score of the season and sixth best score in school history, to finish behind No. 4 Michigan(196.750) and just ahead of No. 23 Penn State (195.625). No. 17 Michigan State finished fourth (195.050) and was followed by No. 22 Iowa in fifth (194.775), No. 25 Minnesota in sixth (194.425) and Ohio State in seventh (194.075). In addition to the team success, Julie Crall won the balance beam title with a career-high tying 9.990 and Allison Buckley was just behind with a 9.875 to tie for second, leading the Illini to a season-high team score of 49.050 on the event. Sarah Schmidt garnered a third place tie on the uneven bars with a career-high tying 9.900, while Buckley and Lindsey Smith finished in a four way tie for fourth place on vault with 9.850s, to lead the team to the third best score in program history on the event.
Illini Vault Into Record Book
For the second straight year Illinois set a new school record on vault in a meet against the UIC Flames. Last year, the Illini put up a 49.125 against UIC in early March, this year they did one better and totaled a 49.150 on vault on March 15 against the Flames. Four Illini set or tied their career-highs on the event and another set a season-high to take the top spot in the record book. Freshman Allison Buckley led the way with a career-best 9.900 to win the individual crown, while senior Michelle McGrady (CH 9.875), freshman Melissa Fernandez (CH 9.800), junior Marijka Botterman (SH 9.800), sophomore Nicole Cowart (9.775) and sophomore Sarah Schmidt (CH 9.725) all contributed to the record as well.
Illini In the Rankings
The Illini are currently ranked No. 24 in this week's GymInfo rankings. The Orange and Blue are up two spots from last week and remain seventh in the South Central Regional rankings. Illinois ranks 19th in the nation and 4th in the region on bars (48.860) and 23rd in the nation on vault (48.945). The Illini have been ranked as high as No. 19 this season (after week one).
Freshman Allison Buckley is currently ranked 21st in the nation on floor exercise (9.885), 28th in the all-around (39.270), 36th on beam (9.865) and 46th on vault (9.860). Junior Julie Crall is ranked 15th on beam (9.875), sophomore Nicole Cowart is ranked 74th in the all-around (38.865) and sophomore Sarah Schmidt comes in at 76th on bars (9.820).
Buckley off to Blazing Start
Freshman Allison Buckley has wasted no time establishing herself as one of the premier gymnasts in the Big Ten Conference and as one of the best freshmen in Illini history. The Schaumburg, Ill. native has been honored as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, as well as a first team All-Big Ten selection. She has competed in the all-around in every meet this year, capturing 19 individual titles (vault-4, bars-1, beam-2, floor-7, AA-5) which is the third-highest total in school history behind only former Olympian Nancy Thies' totals of 34 and 24 in 1976 and '77, respectively.
Buckley was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week (March 19) after winning four individual titles at UIC (vault, beam, floor, AA) and nearly breaking the Illinois all-around record. Her score of 39.450 was just shy of Ashley Williams' record of 39.475. Just a week earlier she scored a 39.375 in the all-around, which equaled the second best score in school history at the time. In addition, her score of 9.925 on beam equaled the second best score on the event in school history.
This past weekend at the Big Ten Championships, she finished in tie for second on beam (9.875), was fourth on vault (9.850) and in the all-around (39.200) and took seventh on floor (9.825). She is currently ranked 21st in the nation on floor (9.885), 28th in the all-around (39.270), 36th on beam (9.865) and 46th on vault (9.860).
Schmidt, Botterman Give Illini A Boost
Sophomore Sarah Schmidt continued her success following her midseason injury by finishing third on the uneven bars with a career-high tying 9.900 at the Big Ten Championships. She has four individual titles this season (3 on bars, 1 in all-around) and 11 top-3 finishes.
In addition to Schmidt, Marijka Botterman was in the all-around competition at the Big Ten Championships for the first time this season, posting a 39.025. She finished tenth on vault and beam with a score of 9.800 on each.
Junior Julie Crall won the 2008 Big Ten Balance Beam title with a career-high tying 9.900 after a successful return this year after suffering a season-ending Achilles' tear on March 9 of last season. Crall had been a top performer for the Illini in each of her first two seasons, earning second team All-Big Ten honors in both her freshman and sophomore campaigns. She won her first career uneven bars title with a career best 9.850 at the State of Illinois Classic. She now has seven event titles this season, six on beam, and is ranked 15th in the nation and fourth in the South Central Region on the balance beam (9.875 RQS).
Not only does this season have the making of a great one for Illinois, but the future also looks bright for the Orange and Blue. Last week at the Big Ten Championships, only two of 24 routines were by seniors (Melcarek's bars and McGrady's vault) and 14 of the 24 routines were by freshmen and sophomores.
In addition to Buckley, the three other Illini freshman have made an immediate impact. Melissa Fernandez has been a constant contributor on vault, beam and floor throughout the season and has been at her best towards the end of the season. Lashlee Morris had been in the beam line-up in every meet before suffering a foot injury prior to the March 8 meet against Mizzou, but she returned to the event three meets ago and posted a personal-best 9.800 at the State of Illinois Classic. Morris has also competed on bars and floor at times this season. Samantha Perino saw time in the floor line-up earlier this year, and is still pushing to crack the line-up on beam. Even sophomore Laura Woolf made her first appearances for the Illini earlier this season, cracking the vault line-up on two occasions.
Six Gymnasts Named Academic All-Big Ten
Six Illinois gymnasts were named to the 2007-08 Academic All-Big Ten team. Marijka Botterman, Nicole Cowart, Julie Crall, Kim Kruk, Michelle McGrady and Lindsey Smith were all honored for having at least a 3.0 cumulative grade-point average and earning a varsity letter in gymnastics.