Illini look to continue streak

Julie Crall performs on the balance beam on Saturday at Huff Hall. Tessa Pelias

Julie Crall performs on the balance beam on Saturday at Huff Hall. Tessa Pelias

By Jessica Warchall

By Jessica Warchall

Staff Writer

Last weekend at Huff Hall the women’s gymnastics team flew past the Illinois State Redbirds to achieve a season-high score 194.175. The Illini will again have the home advantage as they face No. 8 Missouri on Saturday at Huff Hall at 7 p.m.

“The nice thing about Missouri’s team is that they’re going to bring in a good atmosphere,” said head coach Bob Starkell. “They’re going to push us to the limit and be very competitive.”

Starkell, who has personal connections to the Missouri coaching staff, thinks the Tigers will bring a friendly, competitive atmosphere to Huff Hall. He competed against Missouri head coach Rob Drass in high school and coached current Missouri assistant coach Paul Scardina at Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

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Starkell said the Missouri team has a strong work ethic and a consistency that comes with having an experienced team. Even though half of Starkell’s team is made up of freshmen, he is working on instilling confidence in them, which will generate consistency.

“The object of this sport is to be perfect,” Starkell said. “We try to be 100 percent every weekend. Our main goal right now is to hit 24 for 24 routines.”

Comparing gymnastics to basketball and baseball, Starkell said his team cannot hit only 60 percent and expect to win. Last weekend the Illini had only four major breaks on routines, but this weekend Starkell wants to see all of the major breaks on routines eliminated.

The main things the Illini worked on in practice were sticking landings on vault and holding handstands on bars, said senior co-captain Katie Wild. She said the team has also been working on building confidence in themselves and in their ability to perform their routines.

“It’s always nice going against tougher competition because you get to try to evaluate yourselves amongst, supposedly, the better team,” Starkell said. “We are trying to compete at that same level – that’s ultimately where we want to be.”

Starkell works with the team inside and outside of the gym to build the team’s confidence. He works with individuals to visualize their routines, how to look at themselves as competitors to ultimately build their confidence from the inside so they will be competitive once they hit the gym mats.

Confidence showed in junior Melissa Singer last weekend, Starkell said. He said she had one of the best vaults of her career as well as obtaining one of the highest floor scores for the Illini.

“I have not met many people who work harder than (Singer),” Starkell said. “If anything, we have to slow her down.”

Singer is looking forward to another home meet this weekend in addition to focusing on the postseason. She said the postseason, regionals specifically, is the driving force that keeps the team going strong and hopes that this weekend everything will fall into place.

Wild said the team knows at this point in the season that it has to keep its momentum rolling from the previous meet. This weekend the Illini are looking for a repeat of last weekend’s success.

“We’re just going to focus on everything orange and blue,” Singer said. “We are going to focus on ourselves and try to have the best meet that we can.”