Illini women’s gymnastics ready for Senior Night

After four weeks of competing on the road, the Illini women’s gymnastics team returns to Huff Hall on Saturday for its final regular home meet of the season. No. 15 Illinois will face sister school and rival Illinois-Chicago at 2 p.m. The meet will be a double-dual with the fourth-ranked men’s team….After four weeks of competing on the road, the Illini women’s gymnastics team returns to Huff Hall on Saturday for its final regular home meet of the season. No. 15 Illinois will face sister school and rival Illinois-Chicago at 2 p.m. The meet will be a double-dual with the fourth-ranked men’s team. Saturday will be Senior Night for Marijka Botterman, Julie Crall, Kim Kruk and Lindsey Smith.

But it won’t be the last meet at home for the seniors. Lucky for them, they still have one more meet at Huff Hall, the Big Ten Championships.

“In all of my years here, this has been our best season by far, and it’s so exciting that my senior year we are doing so well,” Kruk said.

“When I was a freshman we got last in the Big Ten, a sophomore third, a junior second, and this year we’re going to win it.”

The Illini posted a third-place finish in a five-team meet at Kentucky last weekend, while the Flames are coming off a season-high score in a win over Illinois State University.

“For us last weekend was a learning experience,” head coach Bob Starkell said. “We used it to realize that there are times you’re going to be vulnerable, and we got to make sure that we’re not going run into those issues again.”

Starkell said he is keeping the lineup consistent because he likes where the team is at right now and wants everybody to be comfortable in what they are competing in for the postseason.

“The best thing that I can do for Senior Night is just help our team be consistent and hit my floor routine,” Smith said. “All I want to do is make a good impression and hit my routine.”

The four seniors have been consistent performers since they were freshmen: Botterman on the all-around, Crall on the balance beam, Smith on the floor and Kruk also on the all-around. Although recently Kruk suffered a foot injury that limits her to the bars, where she may only compete in exhibition this weekend.

“I am looking forward to this meet and not looking forward to this meet,” Kruk said. “Everybody is joking with me about how much I’m going to cry on Saturday, and I really hope that I won’t cry, but I’ll probably be the most emotional senior there.”

Starkell appreciates what his seniors have done for the program.

“Collectively, the seniors are a major part of what this program is. When I brought this group in freshman year they have made a difference in helping the team improve every year, and they are better then any recruiting group I’ve ever brought in,” Starkell said.

Though it will be hard for Starkell and the rest of the team to see the four senior gymnasts leave at the end of this season, the Illini are staying focused on the task at hand: bouncing back from last weekend and dominating UIC.

After coming off a heartbreaking team balance beam performance at Kentucky last Friday, Starkell is encouraging his gymnasts to “find their focus again.”

Noting his team’s vulnerability after last weekend, Starkell has used practice this week to preach concentration and the essentials of staying focused.

This week was the first time the Illini had a full week of practice in more than a month.

“We have really just been doing the same thing we have been doing all year at practices, but this week has given us a great opportunity to focus on everything equally and get our consistency back,” Smith said.