Giana O'Connor was just the second freshman last year to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice in one season
Dec. 6, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois gymnastics teams will make their 2013-14 debut this Sunday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. when they kick-off with the annual Orange and Blue exhibition inside Huff Hall. Gymnasts from both squads will be mixed into two teams of 13 to compete for the exhibition title. Illini athletes from various sports will judge the match play competition.
The meet consists of four rotations with five head-to-head match-ups in each rotation. Match-ups will consist of the men vs. the men and the women vs. the women and vary on apparatus. The team with the most head-to-head points/victories at the end of the fourth rotation will be declared the winner.
The women's team is fresh off of a tie for best finish in program history with a final ranking of 11th in the country. The Illini qualified for their third NCAA Championships in the past five years. In addition, the Orange and Blue finished first in their session and fourth overall at the Big Ten Championships, scoring a season best 196.475, the sixth highest score in Illinois history.
This year, Illinois will be without two-time All-American Alina Weinstein, who broke the school's all-around, floor and vault records in 2013 and finished in third place on the all-time career titles list with 43. The Illini will look to fill the void with three All-Big Ten honorees from a season ago in Sunny Kato, Giana O'Connor and Amber See. In all, the women's squad is returning 18-of-24 routines from 2013.
Orange team participants include Emily Lennon, Giana O'Connor, Heather Foley, Sunny Kato and Jordan Naleway. Meanwhile, blue team participants include Erin Buchanan, Kelsi Eberly, Amber See, Sarah Fiedler, and Elizabeth McNabb.
The Illini men are ranked No. 5 in the preseason national rankings, the sixth-straight year Illinois has been ranked in the preseason top five. The Illini return 2013 NCAA vault champion Fred Hartville, who is one of three returning Illini who earned All-America accolades in 2013, along with Mike Wilner (rings) and Joey Peters (all-around).
Wilner and Hartville highlight the orange team, along with freshmen Chandler Eggleston and Tom Gibbs, sophomore Jacob Tilsley, junior Doug Blanton, and seniors Jordan Valdez and Chad Mason. Peters, who earned All-America honors as a freshman in 2013, highlights the blue squad. He'll be joined by freshmen Matt Foster and Taylor Smith, sophomores Logan Bradley and Max Mayr, seniors Alex Varga, Cole Smith, and Andrew Margolis.
The women's team will begin their regular season Jan. 10 at Michigan State followed by their home-opener on Jan. 18 in a tri-meet with Centenary and Wisconsin Eau Claire. The men kick off the season at UIC and follow up with the Windy City Invitational. Both teams will host Gym Jam on March 8.