Women’s gymnastics prepare for most-watched meet

By Emily Bayci

At a typical women’s gymnastics meet at Huff Hall, approximately 400 to 500 fans are in attendance. However, when the Illini travel to Chicago on Friday for the Illinois Gymnastics Institute Chicago Style Invite, there will be an estimated 7,000 fans watching, said head coach Bob Starkell.

For sophomore Allison Buckley, these fans hit particularly close to home. Her extended family, her old club team Gymkhana – coached by her mother – and many former rivals will be in attendance.

“Last year, (Illini gymnast) Kim Kruk’s old coach made a life-size cutout of her and brought it to the meet,” junior Nicole Cowart said. “We’re excited to see if Allison’s team will do anything funny for her.”

The second annual “Chicago Style” meet is one of the largest gymnastics invitational in the world hosted for private club gymnastics teams. The NCAA Session with the Illini, Michigan State and Boise State is a special feature.

Buckley, who struggled a bit last weekend, hopes she will perform well despite the pressure.

“I really think that having everybody here this weekend will pump me up and motivate me to do better,” Buckley said. “It will be great to see everyone and show them what it is like to compete on a collegiate level.”

Illinois has defeated Michigan State twice this season, but Starkell expects tight competition because the Spartans have improved each meet, he said. Starkell added that Boise State returns everyone from last year’s team, and the University of Chicago always puts on a good show to beat its rival school.

After coming off a close meet in Columbus, Ohio, last weekend, the Illini are focusing on keeping a steady pace and putting on a good show. Starkell intends to “shake the lineup up” a bit to find his “perfect combination.”

Buckley is looking forward to the energy surrounding the meet.

“This is going to be a really fun meet for us with a great atmosphere which can motivate us to succeed,” Buckley said.