Kruse, Starkell and Landrus show off their Coach of the Year hardware at
April 18, 2009
LINCOLN, Neb. - University of Illinois head coach Bob Starkell was named National Coach of the Year and assistants Kim Landrus and Amy Kruse were named co-Assistant Coaches of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches for Women (NACGC/W) Saturday morning at the NCAA Championships banquet in Lincoln, Neb. The awards are voted on by coaches around the country.
"It's such an honor to earn this recognition from my fellow coaches and friends," Starkell said. "This award is a reflection how far this program has come in the last five years. Most of the credit should go to my staff and to the great student-athletes that we have here at Illinois.
"I've been doing this for 10 years now and have tried to model myself after individuals who have success year-in and year-out like Suzanne Yoculan (Georgia), Greg Marsden (Utah), Sarah Patterson (Alabama) and Valorie Kondos Field (UCLA). They all make it look easy. While this recognition is nice, I still have a lot of work to do to get to their level of success."
Starkell led Illinois to its first ever appearance at the NCAA Championships this year and produced the school's first first-team All-American in Melissa Fernandez. Under his guidance, the Fighting Illini program has made remarkable strides in the last four years, improving every year at the Big Ten Championships, Regional Championships and final national rankings. Earlier this year he was named Co-Big Ten Coach of the Year after leading Illinois to a second place finish at the conference championships. He then led the Illini to their best-ever regional finish of second to earn the trip to nationals. Starkell's teams have also gotten it done in the classroom, as all 11 upperclassmen were named Academic All-Big Ten this year, sporting at least a 3.0 GPA. Starkell is in his 16th season at Illinois and his 10th as head coach.
Associate Head Coach Kim Landrus has been on the Illinois staff for seven years. Serving as Starkell's recruiting coordinator, Landrus has had a huge hand in bringing in Illinois' current crop of talented student-athletes. In the gym she works primarily with the balance beam, leading the beam squad to the top three scores in school history this year, including the school record of 49.200 at the NCAA West Regional. She has coached beam All-Americans in back-to-back years, Allison Buckley in 2008 (second team) and Fernandez this year (first team) and also coached Buckley to the NCAA West Regional beam title with a school record score of 9.950.
Assistant Coach Amy Kruse is in her third season with the Orange and Blue, serving as vault and floor exercise coach on top of a myriad of other duties. Kruse led the Illini to the top five vault scores in school history, including the school record with a 49.375 at the Big Ten Championships, and also guided the floor team to the school record with a 49.500 at the conference meet. She also helped two Illini claim individual Big Ten titles, Kelsey Joannides on vault and Sarah Schmidt on floor.
"I'm so proud of Kim and Amy," Starkell said of his assistants. "They're like daughters to me and they're huge reasons for the strides our program has taken. I'm very happy to see them get recognized by their peers for all of the hard work they've put in for me, the team and the University of Illinois."
FERNANDEZ GOES FOR BEAM TITLE TONIGHT
Fighting Illini sophomore Melissa Fernandez will compete for the NCAA balance beam title at the National Collegiate Women's Gymnastics Championships individual event finals tonight in Lincoln. By making finals, Fernandez has already earned first team All-America honors, the first Illini to accomplish the feat, and will compete against 11 other individuals for the national title tonight. Junior Sarah Schmidt earned second team All-America honors on floor, but did not advance to today's event finals. Action gets underway at 6 p.m. CT with the vault and bars finals, and will wrap-up with beam and floor finals.
ILLINOIS GYMNASTICS 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. 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 12 *competed at NCAA Championships for first time in school history