Women’s gymnastics to face No. 12 Auburn

 

 

By Laura Hettiger

While the rest of the campus continues to battle the unpredictable Illinois weather, the No. 25 Fighting Illini women’s gymnastics team is seeking refuge in a much warmer climate. Traveling to Auburn, Ala., on Thursday, the team is excited about facing the Tigers on Friday evening.

“First of all, it’s south, so we’ll get out of this snow,” laughed head coach Bob Starkell. “We are looking forward to facing another highly ranked team out of the Southeastern Conference. We’ll try to use this as an opportunity to compete against another top team in the country, see how we stack up and see if the improvements we’ve been making in practice will carry over to an away competition.”

The No. 12 Tigers are a gymnastics powerhouse and have a trio of all-around gymnasts ranked in the top 25. The team is spearheaded by junior Lindsey Puckett, currently ranked as the eighth best athlete in NCAA women’s gymnastics.

Sporting a 4-5 team record, Auburn’s impressive resume also includes top rankings in three team events. They are now No. 6 on beam, No. 10 on vault and No. 15 on the floor exercise.

But even these notable numbers are not enough to discourage the Illini.

“It’s another farther meet, and it’s always nice to travel a little bit,” said all-around competitor Allison Buckley. “Their atmosphere is a little different then being up here. It gets us away from the Big Ten, and we get to experience other conferences. A lot of southern teams are in the top 10, top 12, so it’s exciting to travel down there.”

With an estimated 5,000-person turnout for the Big Ten-SEC showdown, the team is looking forward to competing in front of such a large audience. Buckley believes the Illini (1-6) will be able to feed off the crowd’s energy.

“At Alabama (earlier this season), the crowd was really good; they clapped for us, so it was nice,” Buckley said. “Hopefully it will be the same at Auburn.”

Starkell has said all season that there is more to gymnastics than what the team’s record indicates. His team is not really concerned with wins or losses, instead the Illini are focused on doing “the best performance we can” and has set up a schedule that allows them to compete against the best.

Starkell’s thoughts were mimicked by Jeff Thompson, Auburn’s head gymnastics coach.

“It is important for people to know that wins and losses are not the most important thing in gymnastics,” Thompson said in a press release. “If you look at our win-loss record, you may get the impression that we are not having a good season. These rankings reflect what we have thought about this team all along. We know that we are capable of being a top 10 team.”

Starkell knows his team has the ability to stand out in the national spotlight, too. A win against Auburn could make that happen.