Young Illini gymnasts show potential

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By Jessica Warchall

Head women’s gymnastics coach Bob Starkell’s key word to describe his team this season is potential. This year’s team is young, and its preseason practices have shown definite possibilities.

“We have a lot of potential,” Starkell said, “but potential only gets us so far.”

Of the 14 member team, seven are freshmen. Starkell said any challenge the team would face this season would stem from having a young team. The freshmen have to adjust to gymnastics at a college level before they can exercise their potential, he said.

Junior co-captain Cara Pomeroy said the new members are adjusting well to the change of environments, and Starkell said it helps that this group of freshmen is excited for the season and is goal oriented.

“The freshmen could be a major contribution to the team once they get experience under their belt,” assistant coach Kim Mazza said.

With half of the team composed of freshmen, Starkell said it is in an unfamiliar place. However, the new talent comes in much needed areas.

“We have (made) big strides on vault,” Starkell said, “which lends us good scores right away.”

The Illini have had trouble putting up high vault scores in the past. Starkell hopes this will increase the overall team scores this season. The team’s increased difficulty on its vault routines, has helped to draw in strong recruits. Bars and beam have been the team’s strength in past years, and it hopes that these events continue to carry its scoring trend to nationals.

“There is a strong push to have this team compete in the national championships,” Starkell said.

Starkell said his main focus is to get the whole team to nationals, rather than just a few individuals.

To work toward this goal, the team has set its sights on entering regionals nationally ranked and landing a third-place finish in the Big Ten. Last year, the team finished sixth out of six teams at regionals and finished fifth in the Big Ten.

Senior co-captain Katie Wild said the team needs to be consistent in putting up high scores towards its national qualifying score. She believes the “individual is second to the team in competition” because every score counts toward the national qualifying score.

Consistency has taken somewhat of a back burner to raising the difficulty levels of routines during the preseason. But now that the beginning of the season is drawing nearer, the team will begin to refine its routines.

“Most of us already have our routines strong for this year,” Pomeroy said, “now we need to work on the little things, like sticking our landings.”

Starkell said after winter break his team will focus on the “small stuff” since the team has been performing well on its routines overall.

The Illini will kick off their season this Friday at 7 p.m. with the annual Mixed Pair’s exhibition with the men’s team at Huff Hall. The coaches hope this “fun” event will give the freshmen experience competing at home and help them “lose some nerves” to increase their confidence for the start of the 2006 season.

“Once off Friday’s competition, we will build confidence and competitive character to work on little things that make a team really good,” Starkell said.