Women’s gymnastics heads to Chicago for unofficial state championship

After 10 straight weeks of competition, the No. 16 Illinois women’s gymnastics team is starting to feel a little tired.

But that’s not true for sophomore Allison Buckley, who is finally feeling on top of her game and ready to lead the Illini at the Illinois Classic this Saturday hosted by the Uni…After 10 straight weeks of competition, the No. 16 Illinois women’s gymnastics team is starting to feel a little tired.

But that’s not true for sophomore Allison Buckley, who is finally feeling on top of her game and ready to lead the Illini at the Illinois Classic this Saturday hosted by the University of Illinois-Chicago.

“Right now, we’re at the point in the season where people are getting tired and starting to feel their injuries,” Buckley said. “But we are also introducing a lot of new skills, and we are a lot more competitive than earlier in the season. Also, personally, I am back to full form and ready to give my part for the team.”

The Illini will travel to Chicago to compete against Illinois State, Northern Illinois and UIC in an annual meet that matches up the in-state women’s gymnastics teams. The competition is the unofficial state championship, and for Illinois, a practice to enter “championship mode,” as head coach Bob Starkell said.

The Illini have seen UIC twice already this year, defeating the Flames in both competitions. Illinois has not faced ISU and NIU since the Classic last season, when the Illini took first.

“We’re really not too concerned about this weekend’s meet,” Starkell said. “If we win, we win, and if we lose, we lose. We just want to get more experience in before the Big Ten Championships because that is what our focus is on right now.”

The Illini have been working on perfecting their landings and improving their routines to add more complexity for the upcoming postseason. Senior Marijka Botterman, ranked 13th nationally on the vault, is introducing a new vault routine and adding some new moves to her floor routine. Junior Sarah Schmidt, the top Illini gymnast on the floor and uneven bars, is also introducing more difficult techniques on both events.

Even with the added complexity, the Illini hope to continue their pattern of hitting nearly every event, Starkell said.

Starkell plans to keep the lineup consistent with that of two weeks ago. In the all-around, Buckley, junior Nicole Cowart and freshman Kelsey Joannides will all compete. Buckley won the all-around last weekend, while Cowart, ranked 33rd in the event, has been the most consistent performer. Joannides has excelled as a freshman, placing in nearly every meet.

“This season has really been a learning experience for me and for everyone,” Joannides said. “Everything we do, we are just so much closer as a whole than the beginning of the season, which helps us perform better.”

Buckley said it’s good that the Illini are a tight-knit group, particularly with the postseason approaching.

“Now is the time when everything starts getting stressful, when we come to the realization that next week is the Big Ten Championships,” Buckley said. “We know that we’re in a good spot right now, we just have to stay there.”