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    lini Ink: Women's Gymnastics Online Journal Week 20
    Sophomore Melissa Fernandez earned first team All-American honors on the balance beam.

    Sophomore Melissa Fernandez earned first team All-American honors on the balance beam.

    May 1, 2009

    Get behind the scenes of Illinois Gymnastics with Illini Ink - the weekly women's gymnastics journal. In this week's edition, sophomore Melissa Fernandez talks about the team's first experience at the NCAA Championships.

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    Hey Illini Fans!

    So the season has come to a close for us, but what an exciting season it was! After a strong showing at Regionals in Seattle, Washington, we headed back to Kenney gym to train for our first NCAA appearance! The time went by quickly though because we left early on Tuesday for Lincoln. We had a bus full of Illini gymnasts, coaches, family members, and media making the trip with us. After 9 long hours on the bus, we finally arrived in Lincoln!! There were little banners down the streets promoting the championships and the hotel we stayed at was very welcoming to all competitors. We spent time shopping and walking around downtown Lincoln all weekend, but we didn't forget that we were there to do gymnastics!

    On Wednesday, we had practice at the Devaney Center to get a feel for the equipment and adjust to the atmosphere. The next day was the preliminary rounds of the team competition. We started the competition off on bars; the event we've been starting at a lot this year. Although we didn't have our best meet and you could see the nerves of our first year at Nationals, each of us had a great time and really enjoyed the experience. This was the last meet for our seniors who were a little tearful at the end of competition, but they were only happy tears because of the great season we had! Utah, Alabama, and Arkansas ended up advancing to the Super Six the next day. Sarah Schmidt made 2nd Team All-American on the floor exercise, and I made 1st Team All-American on the balance beam, advancing me to Individual Event Finals on Saturday.

    As a team, we went and watched the final team competition on Friday and saw some GREAT gymnastics! We had fun watching and we were able to see exactly what it takes to make it to that level.

    Saturday was an exciting time for me, competing as the first Illini to ever make the individual event finals! The girls surprised me with signs to hold up during the competition that said "GO M E L!" I competed with Olympians and a lot of well-known gymnasts, which was very, very exciting. I hit my routine for a 9.837 and tied for 7th with another Kansas native-Megan Ferguson. Overall, our Nationals experience was amazing and we definitely took away some ideas on how to push ourselves to the next level.

    After returning from Nationals, we got a much needed break from the gym for a week. We were able to catch up on school work and give our bodies a break. But one week is plenty for us because we're back in the gym this week, excited to learn new skills! The seniors aren't in the gym anymore and missed very much, but we're excited for what's in store for us next year! Finals start next Friday and then we head home for the summer. It's been a great season and we can't wait to continue our growing success.

    Thanks for reading and GO ILLINI!

    Mel

    Illinois Athletics

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