Women’s gymnastics places third at invitational

By Laura Hettiger

Some people just cannot be held back. Allison Buckley is one of those people.

In her fifth official gymnastics meet at the college level, Buckley again stepped up for her team at Friday’s Illinois Gymnastics Institute’s “Chicago Style” Invite at Navy Pier. With Illinois taking home third place behind No. 9 UCLA and No. 11 Stanford, the freshman sparkled even among the more seasoned competitors by recording a season-high all-around score of 39.200.

Friday’s “tough task,” as head coach Bob Starkell described the meet, was the first time no major mistakes were counted against the Illini this season.

“We had a pretty good all-around performance considering we didn’t count any major mistakes,” said Starkell in a press release. “Our goal all along was trying to get rid of deductions that really killed our team score, and we did that.”

For the second straight weekend, sophomore all-around competitor Sarah Schmidt was absent from the lineup nursing a left ankle sprain suffered during practice 11 days ago. Buckley and junior Marijka Botterman tried filling Schmidt’s tumbling shoes as Buckley posted the Illini’s top score on three events and Botterman lead the team on the uneven bars.

Buckley tied for second on the balance beam with UCLA’s Brittani McCullough and Stanford’s Tabitha Yim with a 9.875. Anna Li, a four-time All-American from UCLA, won the beam and uneven bars en route to capturing the all-around title with a near perfect 39.600 score out of the possible 40.

“They were extremely good, extremely talented gymnasts,” Starkell said Sunday. “But we tried to focus on the Orange and Blue and make every attempt not to be watching other people do gymnastics.”

Although No. 24 Illinois now drops to 1-4 on the year, the team continues to post high team scores. Finishing with a combined 194.775, just slightly behind UCLA’s 196.875 and Stanford’s 196.700, the team was able to dispose of their other Pac-10 competitor Washington, who finished the meet half a point behind the Illini.

Starkell and company are now trying to focus on the rest of the season by staying healthy and fine-tuning each gymnast’s routines before Saturday’s contest against Big Ten foe Michigan State.

“This week we are going to let each individual figure out how to improve one or two tenths on each routine,” Starkell said. “(This weekend we) just competed to a level where we didn’t have mistakes instead of making it the best possible we could.”