Schmidt out with sprain forcing switch in lineup

Freshman+Melissa+Fernandez+flips+off+the+balance+beam+Saturday%2C+at+Huff+Hall.+Erica+Magda%0A

Freshman Melissa Fernandez flips off the balance beam Saturday, at Huff Hall. Erica Magda

By Laura Hettiger

Sarah Schmidt is one of the leading forces on this year’s Illinois women’s gymnastics team. Just two weeks ago, in her first competition as an all-around, she took the title against an evenly matched Iowa team. But as the 1-3 Illini travel to Chicago this weekend to compete in the “Chicago Style” Club Gymnastics Meet, Schmidt will be watching from the sidelines.

Spraining her left ankle during “the last full day of practice last week on the uneven bars,” head coach Bob Starkell said she landed funny on the dismount putting her foot at a twisted angle.

Starkell built much of the lineup around Schmidt, so the coach was forced to make some major switches before the previous meet against No. 13 Denver. He is still adjusting his team before taking on gymnastic powerhouses UCLA, Stanford and Washington on Friday.

“I think initially it was kind of a shock,” said Starkell about Schmidt’s injury. “The one person we’ve always counted on was Sarah, always pretty healthy, pretty strong, competes well. But I think also it made the team a little bit stronger because they knew they had to back her up and condone her spots that she would be missing out on.”

Although the sophomore from Hartland, Wis., will be out of commission for several weeks, the No. 24 Illini have not lost sight of their upcoming competition. Going against three very strong Pac-10 schools, Starkell is excited about the tough task ahead.

“For us, (the meet is) basically going to be a measuring point where we find ourselves amongst the mix of teams that have had success in the past and continue to do so,” Starkell said. “We’re looking for a tougher schedule this year to try to develop the young people and knowing they can compete against the highly ranked teams.”

UCLA has won five national championships in the last decade and Stanford has finished in the top six nationally for the last few seasons. With the harder competition, the team hopes to turn in another season-high score.

Junior Marijka Botterman is excited about the meet and feels it will be a great motivator for the team to achieve its ultimate goal of qualifying for nationals. She is also excited to have a meet in Chicago, noting that several of her teammates’ families will be able to make the trip to Navy Pier for the competition.

Unfortunately for the Illini, Schmidt’s swollen and visibly bruised ankle is not the only problem hindering the team. The rest of the athletes have been battling the germs that typically wreak havoc this time of year. Starkell is reminding his gymnasts to constantly wash their hands, take care of their bodies and drink lots of fluids.

“The only obstacle that seems to be in the way is that we have kind of run into a germ bug or some illness,” Starkell said. “We need to get away from mucus and coughs and sneezing; breathing seems to be our biggest problem right now.”