Illini take first at triangular meet, prepare for Penn State

By Mike Czapar

The Illinois women’s gymnastics squad rang in the New Year with a first place finish at the Illinois State Triangular meet over break. The Illini finished ahead of the host Redbirds, as well as Central Michigan, compiling a team score of 193.825.

Illinois was led by senior Lauren Newcomb’s solid all-around performance that earned a 38.775 – which included Newcomb’s career-high score of 9.875 to take first in what was the Illini’s weakest event, the vault.

Head coach Bob Starkell was pleased with Newcomb’s performance as well as the team’s strong overall showing and was excited to see the Illini score high on an event that he considered to be a weakness.

“Lauren Newcomb had a really good match,” Starkell said. “She hit all four events and won the vault, and her score, I’m sure, will be one of the best in school history. We’re pretty excited that we only counted one major break, which was late in the match and was not expected. We are really excited about doing well on balance beam, which is one of our nervous events.”

The Illini’s strong senior class set the tone at the meet, as Kara Kapernekas and Ashley Williams complemented Newcomb’s victory with solid all-around scores of 38.250 and 37.025, respectively.

Newcomb said the Illini were glad to get the season started and to perform in front of judges in a competition environment.

“This meet definitely gives us an idea of where we stand,” Newcomb said. “We train really hard in the preseason, but its always still sort of a guessing game until that first meet. Now that we have that idea, we know exactly where to focus and what to work on.”

With the first meet under their belts, the Illini will head to Penn State for another triangular meet against the Nittany Lions and Pittsburgh this Saturday at 7 p.m. Illinois is still building off last year’s success and hopes to continue with strong performances at the weekend’s match.

In preparation for a strong Penn State squad, the Illini have been focusing on the little things to help polish routines.

“Now that we have our first meet jitters out, we want to focus on the small things like sticking the landing and pointing your toes that can help make a big difference at meets,” Newcomb said. “We’re getting ready for this weekend, and we hope to start strong on the bars – which is a really good event for us to start on.

“Most of us have all competed at the Penn State facility and are familiar, and we’re going to come in there really focused and ready to fly.”