Women’s gymnastics opens against OSU

By Daniel Johnson

Things should be much more inviting for the Illinois women’s gymnastics team this week in its home opener against Ohio State.

The Illini women will be returning to Champaign after last week’s loss to the No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide for their first home meet of the year against the Buckeyes at Huff Hall – a change of scenery following last week’s 11,000-person crowd in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“It was kind of like going to compete in Assembly Hall and seeing everyone in orange,” head coach Bob Starkell said. “But instead everyone had crimson on. It was an experience.”

The women will compete against an Ohio State team that is coming off of a 193.850-190.800 win last week against Maryland.

Starkell said that given the close point totals from their first two meets, Illinois and Ohio State will be very competitive.

“They roughly scored about a point ahead of us,” Starkell said. “I would really say, knowing how they did last year and also knowing some of the recruits that they have as freshmen this year that we’re very comparable teams. But I think that we match up really well.”

The teams may match up well, but Starkell said that at this point it’s hard to see which team will have an advantage in each event. The Illini will likely have an advantage in depth.

“If push come to shove and we need a little bit more depth, I think we’ve got that on the balance beam and the uneven bars,” Starkell said. “The strong point for us is our last three young ladies – Melissa Fernandez, Allison Buckley and Julie Crall – who are very good, probably as good as any beam workers I’ve had here in the last 15 years.”

Buckley competed on all four apparatuses last week against Alabama and will likely have a similar role this week against the Buckeyes. The freshman is still getting acclimated to the collegiate experience but is confident in herself and her team going into the weekend. She echoed Starkell’s feelings on the team’s need to do well on the balance beam this weekend.

“Beam is the event that you have to hit to do well in a meet,” she said. “If we do what we’ve been doing, we will, though.”

Although the team is keeping its confidence tempered, it is poised to excel at this weekend’s meet.

“Ohio State is the first conference test we have, so it would be good if we did well against them,” Buckley said. “We should be able to win. If everyone hits their events, we’ll be fine.”