Freshman gymnast Joannides proves herself in Chicago

By Emily Bayci

Some college teams redshirt their freshmen for a season, allowing the new athletes to get a feel for the sport at the collegiate level before being thrown into competition. Other teams, like Illinois, have freshmen gymnasts who lead the team to victory.

Illinois’ Kelsey Joannides won the first all-around title of her college career on Friday night with a career-high score of 39.125 at the four-team Chicago Style Invitational at Navy Pier in Chicago. No. 14 Illinois won the meet with a score of 195.100, finishing in front of No. 24 Boise State (194.775), Michigan State (194.400) and Illinois-Chicago (193.275).

“I just took all of my mistakes and zoned in on them so that I didn’t mess up,” Joannides said. “I hit 4-for-4 tonight, which is always a difficult task.”

Joannides made the transition from club to college gymnastics with ease, head coach Bob Starkell said. She was a very pleasant surprise as an athlete and has competed in the all-around in every meet this season, Starkell said.

Not only has Joannides competed in every meet this season, but she has worked well under pressure. She proved it on Friday after junior Sarah Schmidt fell on the bars, which Starkell said was very uncharacteristic of her.

“Kelsey and the rest of the team was motivated by the fact that Schmidt never makes mistakes and tried to redeem her,” Starkell said.

With a crowd of nearly 4,000 because the meet was part of a high school club gymnastics invitational, the Illini were competing in front of many of their family and old teammates.

“A lot of girls from my old club were there, one is even on Michigan State’s team,” senior Marijka Botterman said. “My family and a lot of other people’s families were there, it was like everyone had personal fan clubs.”

Botterman posted a high vault score of 9.925, which tied the Illinois school record and shared first-place honors in the event.

After falling behind in the bars and the vault, the Illini displayed impressive routines on the beam and the floor, comparable to postseason form, Starkell said.

Next week Illinois has two competitions, one in Columbia, Mo. in Friday and another at Huff Hall on Sunday.

“We just want to continue our good luck next weekend,” Joannides said. “I just want to do my best to improve the team score overall so that we can win every meet.”