Championships return to Huff Hall, Illini women face country’s best

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Senior Kim Kruk and teammates keep an eye on their Illinois-Chicago competition while preparing for the uneven bars event during a meet at Huff Hall on Saturday, March 7, 2009. The Illini won 195.925-193.725, led by Sophomore Allison Buckley’s three individual titles, including the all-around. The meet was the final regular season home competition for seniors Kruk, Julie Crall, Marijka Botterman, and Lindsey Smith.

By Emily Bayci

The season has reached its apex for Illinois women’s gymnastics with the arrival of the long-awaited Big Ten Championships. No one knows what to expect, as this year’s competition promises to be one of the most competitive in history.

All seven teams are ranked in the nation’s top 27, including No. 13 Penn State, No. 15 Michigan and No. 16 Illinois, while Minnesota and Ohio State are deadlocked at No. 17. Michigan State and Iowa sit behind at No. 26 and No. 27, respectively.

“The competition for Saturday is completely up in the air,” head coach Bob Starkell said. “There’s never been a meet where there is honestly no telling who might win. I’d say that we have the biggest advantage because we have the home crowd and are familiar with the facility, but basically, it’s just going to be whichever team hits all of their routines, wins.”

Every year the site of the Big Ten Championships rotates between the conference’s venues, and this year’s event landed at Illinois’ Huff Hall.

“It’s a really great opportunity to have the Big Tens at your school when you actually go here,” senior Marijka Botterman said. “Because it happens only every seven years, a lot of people never get to compete at home.”

The home crowd won’t be the only familiar faces for Botterman. She will be competing against her sister, Kylee Botterman, a sophomore on Michigan State’s squad. The two competed against each other earlier this season at Ohio State and last year at the Big Ten Championships.

Illinois women’s gymnastics have been on the upswing its past four years in the Championships. In 2006, the Illini placed last out of seven teams.

In 2007, the Illini finished third, and last year, they finished second. Coming off of a win last weekend, the Illini are feeling confident.

“It has really been a whirlwind of years for us because we have improved so much,” senior Julie Crall said.

“We are just really excited for this weekend because it’s where we finally get to showcase all of our hard work.

“With the way that we have been performing all season, we know what we are capable of and that is winning the championships. Now, we just have to hit everything.”

Although none of the Illini gymnasts is ranked at the top of the Big Ten in any events, individuals are ranked among the top five in every event.

“Rankings don’t even matter this weekend,” Starkell said. “Every gymnast just has their one shot, and it’s hit or miss. Every tenth of a point counts, and that’s what we have been working on.”

The Championships will be televised live at 2 p.m. Saturday on the Big Ten Network, and the winners of Big Ten Coach, Freshman and Gymnast of the Year will be announced.