#11 Illinois at the NCAA Championships
April 15, 2014
The Fighting Illini women's gymnastics team returns to the NCAA Championships on Friday, April 18. They will compete in semifinal session I, slated to begin at 1 p.m. CT inside the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. Tickets for the event can be purchased on ticketmaster.com. The semifinal showdown will be streamed live on NCAA.com.
Super Six is scheduled for Saturday, April 19, at 6 p.m. CT. Individual event finals will then take place on Sunday, April 20, at 2 p.m. CT. Both events can be viewed on ESPN3.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS PREVIEW
Illinois earned back to back bids to the NCAA Championships for the first time in school history. The Orange and Blue are storming into Birmingham behind a historic season. In fact, Illinois has not scored below a 196.6 since the end of February against Oklahoma.
Speaking of the Sooners, the Illini will see them for the third time this year as they enter as the top seed in semifinal session I. Oklahoma scored a 197.725 at the Minneapolis Regional and rank first in the country on balance beam.
LSU enters as the three seed and is coming off of a monumental meet in which they tallied a 198.325 at the Baton Rouge Regional. Georgia and fellow Big Ten foe Michigan follow suit as the six and seven seeds, emerging from the Athens Regional. Last but not least, Stanford rounds out the group of six as the No. 10 seed, scoring a 197.275 at the Baton Rouge Regional.
Friday's Competition Draw
Session 1 // Friday, April 18 at 1 p.m. CT
Session 2 // Friday, April 18 at 7 p.m. CT
ILLINOIS HISTORY AT THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
The Illini will be making its fourth appearance at the NCAA Championships in the past six years. Last year, Illinois tied its best finish at Nationals, coming in 11th place. Their 195.700 was their highest score to date on the big stage. The Orange and Blue also advanced in 2011 when they scored a 195.100. Illinois' first trip to the NCAA Championships came in 2009, where they tallied a 195.050. Finally, the Illini's senior trio of Amber See, Liz McNabb and Sarah Fiedler are the only Illinois gymnasts who can claim they made three team trips to the NCAA Championships.
The Illini punched its ticket to Birmingham on April 5 when they finished in second place at the Minneapolis Regional, scoring a 196.600. Illinois beat out fellow conference rival Minnesota, who finished in third with a 196.350. Just like last season's regional meet, Illinois once again produced a season defining event, this time on the uneven bars. The Orange and Blue recorded a season high 49.4 on bars, which was the highest of the day and the third highest in program history. In addition, two Illini walked out of Minneapolis as regional champions. Sunny Kato achieved a career high 9.925 on bars to earn the title as Sarah Fiedler tied her career high of 9.9 on beam to earn that respective title as well. The duo became the fifth and six regional champs in school history. Finally, the Illini's 196.6 was the second highest score in school history at an NCAA regional meet.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIPS
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. The Illini posted a season high 49.325 on floor and recorded the highest beam score of the evening session with a 48.975. Sarah Fiedler and Mary Jane Horth shone bright, as they scored above a 9.8 on all three events they competed.
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 four 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, 196.625 and a 196.600, the best four meet stretch of the 2014 season. Thus, they are averaging a 196.800 over the last month. In addition, the four team scores have all ranked on the all-time top-10 list. Lastly, the Illini have scored a 49 or higher on 15 of the 16 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 (196.600) 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 (49.400), fourth (49.375), sixth (49.250) and ninth (49.225) best scores in program history. Furthermore, Illinois has accomplished three scores 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 as well. Buchanan tallied the third highest vault score in school history with a 9.925 while Kato made her way onto the bars and beam lists with a career high 9.925 on both.
SURPASSING THE 196 // 9.9
Surpassing a 196 at a meet has always been a solid indicator of consistency for the Illini. After 13 meets this season, Illinois has surpassed the benchmark eight 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 36 times. Diving deeper, the Illini have recorded seven 9.925's, one 9.95 and one perfect 10. Freshmen Erin Buchanan, Mary Jane Horth and Emily Lennon have contributed a combined seven scores of 9.9 or higher. Sarah Fiedler recorded a career high 9.9 on beam twice this year 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 eight times on both events. However, Amber See leads Illinois with 13 total times she has hit the mark. See has achieved the feat five times on vault and an impressive eight times on floor.