Women kick off season with mixed-pairs meet

Daily Illini File Photo

Daily Illini File Photo

By Mike Czapar

The Illinois women’s gymnastics team will compete against some of its toughest opponents this Friday at Huff Hall – members of the Illinois men’s gymnastics team.

The annual Orange and Blue open, which features members of both squads pairing up to compete against one another, is slated to begin at 7 p.m.

Although the mixed pairs competition is just for fun, the women’s team will use the event to get in the swing of competition, and hopes to build on last season’s strong finish in regionals.

Senior Lauren Newcomb is excited and optimistic about the season and the talent of the Illini this season.

“The team is looking really strong right now, we’re really ahead of the game as far as the preseason goes,” Newcomb said. “We didn’t lose any competition routines from last year so we’re really just looking to build off our strengths. We also gained three new freshmen this year, and they’ve been really pushing hard at practice to get in the lineup.”

Illinois will be lead by its large senior class and two returning athletes who qualified for the NCAA championship – senior Ashley Williams and sophomore Cara Pomeroy.

Despite qualifying only two athletes for the 2004 championship meet, the Illini performed extremely well, finishing 22nd as a team.

Senior Sara Dumich said last year’s success has raised the bar for this year’s team, and the senior class wants to go out with a bang.

“We are really excited for the year,” Dumich said. “We really want to finish hard in our last season. We ended so strong last year, we ended up 22nd at Nationals and we were really happy with that. So this year we want to work really hard and not just qualify for regionals, but make nationals as a team.”

Assistant coach Kim Mazza said the combination of last year’s accomplishments and the return of so many talented athletes has done a lot for the squad’s confidence.

“We had an inter-squad last week with a judge that went really well,” Mazza said. “I think they’re confident and that last season really showed our team that the hard work and conditioning they’ve put in does pay off.”

Newcomb said despite having such a similar group as last year, this season’s conference is different because there are a lot of teams competing at the same level.

“We’re right up there, with a lot of teams, so I think its really going to come down to who hits the best at the right time,” Newcomb said. “Michigan is always really strong, but I don’t think there’s really one clear-cut team that’s better this year.”