Women’s gymnastics team defeats UIC

Marijka Botterman, left, celebrates with teammates after competing in the vault portion of a match against University of Illinois-Chicago on Saturday at Huff Hall. Botterman received a score of 9.875 on the vault, helping the Illini defeat UIC 195.625 to Beck Diefenbach

Beck Diefenbach

Marijka Botterman, left, celebrates with teammates after competing in the vault portion of a match against University of Illinois-Chicago on Saturday at Huff Hall. Botterman received a score of 9.875 on the vault, helping the Illini defeat UIC 195.625 to Beck Diefenbach

By Wesley Deberry

Energetic high fives exchanged between members of the No. 19 Illini women’s gymnastics team during the March 19 meet quickly turned to emotional hugs and kisses at the conclusion.

For most of the Illini, Saturday’s meet was the last home meet of the season. For senior captains Melissa Singer, Danye Botterman and Cara Pomeroy, Saturday was the last home meet of their careers.

However, the seniors did not leave Huff Hall without leaving their mark, as the Illini scored a school record of 49.125 on vault. Junior Michelle McGrady started the rotation off for the Illini with a score of 9.825. She has been the tone-setter for the Illini all season on vault. With the tempo set, freshman Nicole Cowart and sophomore Marijka Botterman scored career bests on vault with an identical score of 9.875 earning first place honors.

The Illini’s strong vault performance early helped propel them to a convincing victory over the University of Illinois-Chicago 195.625- 193.975.

“We are trying to go to the next level,” head coach Bob Starkell said.

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For the Illini, the meet was another chance to critique their skills. Starkell admitted that he was very happy with the team performance. Most impressive to Starkell was the success that the Illini had sticking their landings, as they stuck 24 out of 24 landings in the meet.

With a first place score of 9.875 on uneven bars and a second place score of 9.775 on balance beam, Pomeroy had a good showing for the Illini. Aside from their strong vault performances, Botterman won the all-around competition with a score of 30.025 and Cowart won floor exercise with a career-best score of 9.875. Coming in close second to Cowart on vault was junior Krystal Melcarek with a score of 9.850.

At the conclusion of the meet, Starkell said that at this point in the season the expectations for strong performances are very high.

The feeling of adding another notch to their belt was short lived, as the Illini reported back to work on March 21st, forfeiting their spiring break to prepare for the State of Illinois Classic in Dekalb, Ill. on Sunday.

Their efforts in the Illinois Classic fell short as the Illini finished in third place with a score of 193.725 behind Northern Illinois (194.125) and Illinois Chicago (194.725). The Illini managed to top Illinois State’s score of 188.500. This performance was out of the ordinary for the Illini as they had previously defeated all teams in the Illinois classic earlier in the season.

“We didn’t compete the way that we have been competing all season,” Pomeroy said. “They deserved to win because we did not have the type of meet we should have. Mentally we just have to recoup and get ready for this weekend.”

The balance beam was the Achilles heal of the Illini. Struggling early in the event, the Illini were not able to find their rhythm. Despite Pomeroy’s title-winning score of 9.775, the Illini suffered a team season low score on balance beam of 47.375.

“The first person up is key on every event,” Starkell said. “If the first person up struggles everyone else gets nervous because they know they have to perform at their highest level.”

Though the outcome of Sunday’s meet was not as the Illini imagined it, there were still some positive moments.

The Illini tied their second highest team score on uneven bars with a score of 49.250. Winning the title for the Illini on uneven bars was Pomeroy with a season high score of 9.950. Botterman took second place with a career-high score of 9.875 and Sarah Schmidt finished in third with a score of 9.850.

“I am taking a positive stance even with the low score,” Starkell said. “This meet let us know we’re vulnerable, we can’t take things for granted, you have to make sure you prepare well for next weeks competition.”

With last Sunday’s meet behind them, the Illini came in for treatment on Monday and will have two days of practice this week to prepare for the Big Ten Championships on Saturday.

The Illini understand that the margin for error is slim to none at the Championships.

“It’s a pretty even playing field,” Pomeroy said. “Whoever is best on Saturday is the one who is going to win, but it’s fair game for anyone.”