Women's Gymnastics
Illini Head to NCAA Championships

Allison Buckley and the Illini head to Lincoln, Neb. for the NCAA Championships, where they will take part in Thursday's evening session.
Allison Buckley and the Illini head to Lincoln, Neb. for the NCAA Championships, where they will take part in Thursday's evening session.

April 13, 2009

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NCAA Championship Info

#11 Illinois at the NCAA Championships

April 16-18, 2009 // Bob Devaney Sports Center // Lincoln, Neb.

Competition Schedule
Thursday, April 16: Team Prelims & AA Final - Session 2 - 7 p.m.
Friday, April 17: Super Six Team Finals -6 p.m.
Saturday, April 18: Individual Event Finals - 6 p.m.

Follow the Action
Livestats: fightingillini.com and huskers.com
TV: CBS Tape delay - May 9, 1-3 pm (Tim Brando and Amanda Borden)

For Openers
The 11th-ranked Fighting Illini women's gymnastics team heads to Lincoln, Neb., to compete in the NCAA Championships April 16-18 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Illinois enters the competition as the 11th seed in the 12-team field. Illinois will participate in the evening session for the team preliminaries and all-around final on Thursday, April 16 at 7 p.m., along with No. 2 Utah, No. 3 Alabama, No. 6 Oregon State, No. 7 UCLA, and No. 10 Arkansas. Illinois will begin the competition on bars and will rotate as follows: bars, beam, bye, floor, vault, bye.

The top three teams from each of Thursday's preliminary sessions will advance to the Super Six team finals on Friday, April 17. The all-around champion will be crowned on the first day of competition, while individual event champions are scheduled for Saturday, April 18 at 6 p.m. The top four individuals on each event from each of Thursday's sessions will compete in the individual event finals.

The Illini are coming off an impressive showing at the NCAA West Regional two weeks ago in Seattle, Wash., where they posted a 196.700 to take second place, just .05 off the school record set at this year's Big Ten Championships.

Quick Hits
• A First For Everything: Illinois is making its first ever team appearance at the NCAA Championships this weekend. The Illini earned the spot by taking second at the West Regional with a score of 196.700.

• Buckley Wins Beam at Regional: Sophomore Allison Buckley shared the West Regional Beam Title with an individual school record score of 9.95. Her score tied Stacy Redmond (1995) at the top of the individual record books. Buckley is just the third Illini in school history to earn an individual regional title, joining Nancy Thies (1976 and '77) and Cara Pomeroy (2004).

• UI Duo Claims Big Ten Titles: Freshman Kelsey Joannides won the 2009 Big Ten Vault title with a career-high 9.925 and junior Sarah Schmidt shared the Big Ten Floor crown with a school-record tying 9.950 to give Illinois multiple event champions at the conference meet for the first time since 1990.

• Records Fall in Postseason: Illinois set school records for overall team score (196.750), floor (49.500) and vault (49.375) at the Big Ten Championships en route to a second place finish. The Illini then went on to break the school beam record (49.200) at the West Regional, led by Allison Buckley's individual record tying score of 9.95.

A Program on the Rise
By advancing to this year's NCAA Championships, Illinois has continued its gradual climb towards becoming one of the nation's elite teams. When this year's senior class of Marijka Botterman, Julie Crall, Kim Kruk and Lindsey Smith started their careers four years ago, the Illini program hadn't finished in the top half of the Big Ten in 15 years and had reached regionals only four times since 1990. During the last four years, Illinois has improved its Big Ten and regional finishes each year and has continued to climb up the national rankings. This year's trip to nationals is just more proof that Illinois gymnastics is a program on the rise. Take a look at the program's progress over the last four years:

Year      Big Ten        Regional    Final Nat. Rank
2006        7th            4th              25
2007        3rd            4th              20
2008        2nd            3rd              15
2009        2nd            2nd               ?

Illinois NCAA Championship History
Illinois is making its first NCAA Championship appearance this weekend. However, last year two Illini individuals - Allison Buckley and Nicole Cowart - competed at nationals in the all-around and both are back this year with that experience under their belts. Buckley earned second team All-America honors on the balance beam, joining Nancy Thies as the only Illini to earn All-America status. Overall, 12 Illinois individuals have competed at the NCAA Championships in the program's history.

Handicapping the Field
Four-time defending NCAA Champion Georgia leads the way with both the top NQS and the top regional score (197.700) among the 12 teams. No. 2 Utah was right on their heels with a score of 197.675 at the West Regional. Illinois had the seventh-best regional score with a 196.700, ahead of No. 7 UCLA (196.625), No. 8 Oklahoma (196.600), No. 10 Arkansas (196.300), No. 9 Stanford (196.200) and No. 12 Penn State (195.800). The Illini have face three teams in the field this season, going 3-1 in those matchups. Illinois defeated Penn State twice (195.500-192.925 on Jan. 17 and 196.750-196.525 at the Big Ten Championships on March 21) and Oregon State once (195.900-195.800 in a quad at Washington on Feb. 21) this year, and fell to Utah (197.675-196.700 at the West Regional meet). Thursday's Competition Draw

Session 1 // Thursday, April 16 at 1 p.m. CT

Rank  Team        Region         Regional Score   NQS        Starting Event
1     Georgia     Southeast      197.700          394.955    Bye before Floor
4     LSU         Central        196.875          393.635    Beam
5     Florida     North Central  196.775          393.490    Floor
8     Oklahoma    Northeast      196.600          393.065    Bars
9     Stanford    South Central  196.200          393.025    Vault
12    Penn State  Southeast      195.800          392.040    Bye before bars

Session 2 // Thursday, April 16 at 7 p.m. CT

Rank  Team        Region         Regional Score   NQS        Starting Event
2     Utah        West           197.675          394.865    Bye before bars
3     Alabama     Northeast      197.000          393.925    Floor
6     Oregon St.  Central        196.800          393.320    Beam
7     UCLA        North Central  196.625          393.205    Vault
10    Arkansas    South Central  196.300          392.740    Bye before floor
11    Illinois    West           196.700          392.715    Bars

Illini Take Second At West Regional to Earn First Ever National Bid
The Illini took second place behind No. 2 Utah at the West Regional Championship in Seattle, earning one of the two coveted qualifying spots to the NCAA Championships. Allison Buckley took home a share of the beam crown with an individual school record -tying score of 9.95 to lead the Illini to a 196.700 team score, just .05 off the school record set at this year's Big Ten Championships. Buckley received a spot on the podium in three events, taking first on beam, second on vault (9.90), and fourth in the all-around (39.425). She led Illinois to the team record on beam (49.200), while Kelsey Joannides and Melissa Fernandez tied for fourth on beam with 9.875s. Buckley and Marijka Botterman (9.850) were the top Illini vaulters, leading the Orange and Blue to their third best score this season and in school history of 49.175. Botterman led Illinois on bars (49.100), taking third place with a career-high 9.90, and Sarah Schmidt paced the Illini on floor (49.225), finishing sixth with a 9.875. Joannides joined Buckley on the all-around podium with a 39.300 to take sixth, while Nicole Cowart finished seventh with a 39.150.

Illini Take Second At Big Tens Once Again
Illinois posted a school record score of 196.750 at the 2009 Big Ten Championships at Huff Hall, but it wasn't enough to earn the Illini their first conference title since 1990, as the Orange and Blue finished runner-up for the second straight year behind Michigan. Illinois made a late charge with team records on their final two events, floor (49.500) and vault (49.375), to put pressure on the Wolverines, who finished with a 197.075. Following the competition, head coach Bob Starkell was honored as Co-Big Ten Coach of the Year along with Penn State's Steve Shephard. It is the second time that Starkell has received the honor, with the first coming in 2005.

In addition to the team success, Sarah Schmidt shared the floor title with a school record tying 9.950 and Kelsey Joannides won the vault crown with a personal-best 9.925, giving the Illini a Big Ten Champion for the third consecutive year and multiple winners for only the fourth time in program history. Allison Buckley (9.925) and Marijka Botterman (9.900) finished fourth and fifth, respectively, behind Schmidt on floor to help lead the Illini to the team event record. Nicole Cowart finished right behind Joannides on vault with a career-high 9.900 to take second and pace the Illini to the team vault record. Joannides and Melissa Fernandez paved the way for the Illini on beam (48.925), tying for second with 9.875s. Joannides tied the third best all-around score in UI history of 39.375 to garner a fifth place finish, while Cowart took eighth with a career-best 39.275 and Buckley finished 10th with a 39.250.

Records Were Made to Be Broken
This year's Illini squad has made several significant marks on the all-time Illinois record books, breaking team record in overall team score and in three of four events. The Orange and Blue have posted the top four team scores in school history this season and currently hold six scores on program's all-time top-10 list. The record coming into the season was a 196.300, but the team has gone on to surpass the record mark with scores of 196.700 against Ohio State on Feb. 15 and 196.750 at the Big Ten Championships on March 21. This year's Illinois' squad also holds the top-four team vault scores in the record book, including the new record of 49.375 at the Big Ten Championships. They moved past the old floor record (49.450) at the Big Ten Championships with a 49.500, and passed the old beam record (49.175), which had been tied twice earlier this season, at the West Regional with a 49.200.

In addition to the team records, several gymnasts have placed themselves on top of the individual record books. Marijka Botterman took sole possession of first place on the all-time vault list with her 9.950 on Feb. 15 against Ohio State. Sarah Schmidt joined four other performances at the top of the individual floor record book with her 9.950 at the Big Ten Championships. Allison Buckley tied the school beam record with a 9.95 at the West Regional championship, after posting two 9.925s earlier in the year. Several individuals have notched a spot in the top-10 all-around list this season, with Buckley leading the way with 39.425 to sit in third, behind the second place mark that she set last season of 39.450. Kelsey Joannides tallied a 39.375 to sit in a tie for fourth, while Botterman scored a 39.350, seventh on the list. For complete Illinois performance lists, see page 4.

Botterman Vaults Into Record Book
Senior Marijka Botterman broke Illinois' individual vault record on Feb. 15 against Ohio State with a 9.95. She shared the old record of 9.925 with Jessica Cole (2003) and Nicole Viernes (1996) already, but now sits alone at the top of the record book. A second team All-Big Ten selection, Botterman took fifth on floor at the Big Ten Championships with a career-high 9.900 and third on bars at the West Regional with a career-high 9.90. Botterman stepped into the all-around role at the State of Illinois Classic due to injuries and responded with a career-best 39.350, tying the fifth best score in school history and taking first at the four-team competition. She is ranks 21st in the nation on vault (9.885 RQS), scoring no lower than 9.800 all season on the event. Botterman, who has emerged as one of the team's leaders and as one of the most consistent performers this year, now has eight titles on the season, including five on vault.

• Sibling Rivalry: Marijka Botterman's younger sister, Kylee, is a sophomore at Michigan and qualified for the NCAA Championships as an individual on the floor exercise. Kylee will also compete in the evening session on Thursday, and competes on floor while the Illini are on a bye. The sisters have gone head-to-head several times during the last two seasons and this weekend will be the final time, as Marijka is set to graduate from Illinois in May. Their older sister, Danye, competed for Illinois from 2004-07.

Buckley Back to Form
Sophomore Allison Buckley, a 2008 All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year, looks to finally be back to form following off-season surgery that had limited her throughout the early part of the season. The Schaumburg, Ill., native tied the school beam record (9.95) at the West Regional to share the title honors, and also finished second on vault (9.90) and fourth in the all-around with her season-high and third best score in Illinois history of 39.425. She has competed in the all-around in each meet during the second half of the season, taking home the title twice, including a 39.350 against Ohio State on Feb. 15. At the Big Ten Championships, she finished fourth on floor with a career-high tying 9.925, ninth on vault (9.850), and tenth in the all-around (39.250). She tallied two consecutive 9.925s on beam to take the title at the State of Illinois Classic and against UIC. Buckley now has 27 career-titles, placing her sixth among UI's career event title leaders. She also holds five of the top-7 all-around scores in school history, including the second-best mark of 39.450. Despite the early injuries, she was still named second team All-Big Ten.

Joannides Excels Early in Career
Freshman Kelsey Joannides had stellar performances in her first two postseason competitions. Joannides won the Big Ten Vault title with the second-best score in school history of 9.925. She also tied the third best all-around score in UI history of 39.375 to finish fifth at the Big Tens, while taking runner-up on beam with a personal-best 9.875. Joannides went on to finish in the top-10 on three events at the West Regional, taking fourth on beam (9.875), sixth in the all-around (39.300), and ninth on vault (9.825). The Frederick, Md., native has competed in the all-around in each meet for the Illini, capturing her first all-around title on Feb. 6 in Chicago. She also tied a career-best 9.90 on floor at the State of Illinois Classic to take second after winning her first floor title against UIC the week prior. Joannides, a second team All-Big Ten selection, has also captured the beam title three times this season, each with a score of 9.850. She is ranked 34th in the nation on beam (9.860), 49th in the all-around (39.140), and 63rd on floor (9.850).

Schmidt Is Smokin'
Junior Sarah Schmidt shared the 2009 Big Ten floor championship with a school record tying 9.950, after taking home the floor title the week prior at the State of Illinois Classic with a 9.925. She also took home the bars crown at the Illinois Classic with a career-high tying 9.900, and set a new personal-best in the all-around (39.275) to take third. Schmidt took sixth at the West Regional on floor with a 9.875. She was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week by the conference (Jan. 19) after winning two individual titles with career-high scores of 9.900 on both bars and floor to lead the Illini in their upset over Penn State. Those scores were the highest in the conference that week on the two events. The Hartland, Wis., native also tallied her career-high on vault (9.825) against the Nittany Lions. Schmidt has been Illinois' most consistent bars and floor performer this season, ranking 18th nationally on floor (9.890) and 45th on bars (9.850). A second team All-Big Ten honoree, Schmidt has nine event titles this season, including four on the uneven bars and five on floor.

• Performing with the Stars: This past fall, Schmidt had the opportunity to perform alongside several Olympic greats, including Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, when the 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars came to Champaign in November.

Suki's Smooth
Junior Nicole "Suki" Cowart has been one of the most consistent Illini performers all season. She took runner-up at the Big Ten Championships on vault with a career-best 9.900 and eighth in the all-around with a personal-best 39.275. Cowart then went on to tie for sixth on bars (9.850) and take seventh in the all-around (39.150) at the West Regional. She has competed in the all-around in every competition this year for the Orange and Blue, topping the 39.0 mark nine times. A second team All-Big Ten pick, Cowart ranks among the top-100 nationally on vault (93rd), bars (57th) and in the all-around (40th). Cowart has 12 career titles, including four each on floor and in the all-around.

Magnificent Mel
Sophomore Melissa Fernandez has emerged as one of the Big Ten's best beam performers this season. She has competed on beam in 12 of 13 competitions this season, missing only the State of Illinois Classic due to injury. The Eudora, Kan., native tied the second best beam score in UI history of 9.925 earlier this season to win the title against Missouri. She finished in a tie for second on the event at the Big Ten Championships with a 9.875. Fernandez tied for fourth (9.875) at the West Regional Championship on beam. Fernandez has four titles on beam this season and ranks 36th nationally on the event with a 9.860 RQS. She has also been a constant contributor on vault and bars this season, taking sixth at Big Tens on vault with a career-high 9.875.

For complete Illinois NCAA Championships Notes click on the PDF link at the top of the page