Illini rebound, take third place rank in Big Ten Tourney

By Wesley Deberry

As the Illini women’s gymnastics team traveled to University Park, Pa., for Saturday’s Big Ten Tournament, head coach Bob Starkell had two concerns: How the team would rebound after an “emotionally flat” performance at the Illinois Classic, and how they would handle the unusual time lapse in between events.

“It takes a little bit different strategy going in,” Starkell said. “You have to pace yourself well and make sure you’re focused on the goal.”

At the end of the day, though, Starkell could rest easy as the Illini not only rebounded from their meet the week before, but also achieved their Big Ten Championship goal, finishing third with a score of 195.250.

“As the meet went on the momentum picked up and it was just an amazing experience,” freshman Nicole Cowart said.

Since the beginning of the Starkell era, this is the highest the Illini have finished at the championships. The third-place finish was not the only first of this championship weekend, though, as three Illini, sophomore Julie Crall, freshman Nicole Cowart and senior Cara Pomeroy, were all elected to the All-Big Ten team.

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“For us and our program to have three young ladies a part of the All-Big Ten Team, it’s a move in the right direction. In the past we’ve had as many as two and now we have three.” Starkell said.

Senior Cara Pomeroy capped things off for the Illini on uneven bars on Saturday with a score of 9.950. Aside from achieving her highest score of the season, Pomeroy’s 9.950 earned her first-place honors on uneven bars.

Winning a Big Ten Championship event title is something that has eluded Pomeroy for four years. More important to Pomeroy, though, was how the team did as whole.

“It shows what (the senior class has) done through the four years we have been here.” Pomeroy said. “We have helped improve the team and hopefully they can continue to improve upon that in the next few years.”

Freshman Sarah Schmidt tied for second behind Pomeroy with a career-high score of 9.900.

As a team, the Illini also performed well on uneven bars, beating the second highest score in school history set just a week earlier with a score of 49.300.

With Saturday’s meet behind them, the Illini can begin to make reservations for their trip to Arizona as they have locked up a spot in the NCAA Regional Tournament.