Team looks for success in Illinois Classic, seeks place on podium at Big Ten tourney

Team looks for success in Illinois Classic, seeks place on podium at Big Ten tourney

By Jessica Warchall

The Illini will try to prove themselves as the top Division-I team in Illinois as they compete in the Illinois Classic on Saturday. No. 24 Illinois will travel to Normal, Ill., to take on No. 37 Illinois-Chicago, No. 45 Northern Illinois and No. 56 Illinois State.

“This is always an important meet for us,” junior Melissa Singer said. “There’s a pretty intense rivalry between all of the Illinois schools, and it’s a sense of pride to be the best team in Illinois – we would like to be the best.”

The Illini defeated all three teams when they went against each other this season. Head coach Bob Starkell said this might give his team confidence going into the meet, but the teams have changed.

“We saw each group relatively early in the year and (the teams) can always change,” Starkell said. “Our status and configuration as a team has changed too. It’ll be a different matchup, but it should help us confidence-wise knowing we won away on two of the trips.”

The Illini will look different this weekend because of lineup changes. Starkell said sophomore Michelle McGrady will most likely sit out this weekend because of an injury, and junior Danye Botterman may be out of the lineup for the rest of the season due to an ankle injury. Starkell said he will now rely on the freshmen to pull through and put up high marks.

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“You don’t get to experiment much anymore,” Starkell said. “Whatever lineup we plan to use this weekend we’ll hopefully use next weekend in East Lansing.”

The Illini will compete in the Big Ten Championships on March 25 in East Lansing, Mich. Starkell said the team is now in “championship mode,” focusing on the atmosphere of the Big Tens in every performance.

Singer said the Illinois Classic is a good tune-up for the Big Tens because the format is more like the championships. She hopes the team can hit 24-of-24 routines to boost its confidence for Big Tens.

“This is what we’ve trained for all season,” junior co-captain Cara Pomeroy said. “This is the championship part so we’re motivated and excited to go (to the championships) and show them how hard we’ve been working.”

Singer said the Illini have to stay focused on what they have been practicing all season to remain confident and get rid of nerves to perform well at Big Tens.

“We are going to train hard this week so hopefully next week we can taper down our training to make our bodies feel really good for Big Tens so we’ll be ready to go,” Starkell said.

He said he does not know what to expect to come out of the championships this year because his team is comprised of half freshmen and cannot go off of how the team performed last year.

Last year the Illini came in fifth at the Big Ten Championships. Starkell said this year could be extremely competitive for his team because all seven Big Ten teams have a chance of winning the title. He said it could be any team’s meet.

However, Starkell said the Illini’s goal all season has been to earn a top three finish. To achieve this he said his team must stay competitive and present itself well to the judges and avoid any major mistakes to avoid major point deductions.

“Our goal all season has been to be on the podium,” Pomeroy said. “To do that we have to do in (to the championships) with confidence and do what we know how to do.”