Gymnasts prepare for emotional Senior Day, ‘Border War’

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By Laura Hettiger

After four years of dedication and service to the Illinois women’s gymnastics team, seniors Krystal Melcarek and Michelle McGrady are not quite ready to hang up their tumbling shoes.

Luckily for them, Saturday’s “Border War” against No. 15 Missouri will be Senior Day, but not their final competition at Huff Hall.

“It’s been a good year, and we still have one more home meet after this,” said Melcarek, the team’s undisputed vocal leader. “I’m just excited for the senior meet, it’ll be fun. It will be sad, but fun.”

Though it will be hard for head coach Bob Starkell and the rest of the team to see the two senior gymnasts leave at the end of this season, the Illini are staying focused on the task at hand: dominating the Tigers.

“We need to be confident and treat every meet as a practice,” Melcarek added.

“I feel like once we get into a meet, some people get scared. They just kind of forget how to do gymnastics once they’re out there, and that’s not the way to do it. You have to have fun, that’s why we’re here.”

After coming off a heartbreaking team balance beam performance at Auburn last Friday, Starkell is encouraging his gymnasts to stay relaxed and not put unnecessary pressure on each other.

Initially on its way to setting a new team high score, Illinois fell apart during the second half of the meet.

Beginning with a very uncharacteristic fall on the floor exercise by freshman all-around competitor Allison Buckley, Starkell has been trying to enforce team unity among his athletes.

Noting the vulnerability of Illinois after their road trip, he has used practice this week to preach concentration and the essentials to staying focused.

“We have re-emphasized the quality of work they’re doing this week and get ready for another weekend,” Starkell said.

Instead of continuously correcting their mistakes, the nine-year coach has not been pointing out the gymnasts’ past mistakes, but looking to the tough competition at hand.

“It is a little bit of a rivalry between us and Missouri,” Starkell said. “We do a home and away schedule with them every year, and we haven’t beat them in quite some time.”

Combining the raw emotions of the Senior Day activities, the vulnerability after last weekend’s lackluster performance and the rivalry against Mizzou, Illinois must be very focused and start strong to secure the win.

Doubling as the men’s Senior Day, the dual-meet will showcase the Fighting Illini men’s gymnastics team against Michigan.

Both competitions will take place on Saturday at Huff Hall at 2 p.m.