Women’s gymnastics takes second at Big Ten Championships

By Emily Bayci

Senior Marjika Botterman didn’t know how to feel after the No. 16 Illinois women’s gymnastics team took second place at the Big Ten Championships on Saturday, posting its best score in school history.

“My emotions are just all over the place right now,” Botterman said. “I’m happy that we set so many school records, surprised we stepped it up so much in the second half, shocked that we performed so well on the floor and the vault, disappointed that we didn’t win, upset that we didn’t do our best on beam and bars, sad that I’ll never compete at Huff again, pumped for the next few weeks and proud of all my teammates.”

In a meet that took place at Huff Hall, the University of Michigan edged out the Illini for the title with a score of 197.075. The Illini (196.750) scraped past third-place Penn State (196.525), which finished just ahead of Minnesota (196.000), Ohio State (195.900), Michigan State (195.650) and Iowa (195.450).

“I knew this was going to be a close meet, and I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen,” head coach Bob Starkell said. “After watching all the other teams during warm-ups yesterday, I completely thought that we were going to get fourth. But, the girls proved me wrong.”

The Illini were all over the place during the meet, starting off with average scores on the uneven bars and the beam, then coming out of nowhere and earning school records on the floor exercise and the vault. Starkell said that he thought the team didn’t have a chance after the first two events because typically those are the team’s best events.

However, the second half of the meet saw an entirely different Illini force.

Sarah Schmidt led the Illini to their turnaround on the floor, posting her career high and tying the school record with a 9.950 to win the Big Ten title.

“We just took all of our nerves and pent-up energy and put it into our floor routines,” Schmidt said.

Every floor routine for the Illini just kept getting better and better, with Illinois posting its highest score in school history on the floor with a 49.500.

Freshman Kelsey Joannides led the Illini on the vault, taking the crown and earning her career high with a 9.925.

“Everyone in front of me was sticking, and I knew that I had to stick too,” Joannides said. “That was the only thing on my mind, and I just nailed it. I never usually do this good on the vault. It’s really exciting to already have a Big Ten title as a freshman.”

Junior Nicole Cowart was close behind her with a 9.900, followed by sophomore Melissa Fernandez, sophomore Allison Buckley and Botterman, respectively. They totaled an overall score of 49.375 on the vault, another school record for the Illini.

Joannides also led the Illini in the all-around, where she took fifth overall, followed by Cowart in sixth place and Buckley in 10th.

“Today was a great day for Kelsey after a rough middle of the season,” Starkell said. “She is a complete coach’s dream, especially because she is such a workhorse in the gym.”

Another big moment of the meet was Starkell sharing the title of Big Ten Coach of the Year with Penn State’s Steve Shephard.

Starkell was excited about the honor but said it was simply a reflection of the athletes’ success.

Botterman respectfully disagreed with her coach.

“We got to where we are today because of Coach Bob. He influences us so much to do well, and we just want to make him proud,” Botterman said.

Now, the Illini are gearing up for NCAA Regionals, which take place on April 4. Illinois will have regular practice throughout spring break and will find out Monday where it competes.

“After this meet, we know that we are going to nationals,” Botterman said. “I’m not letting the team think anything else but that we have two meets left to this season, where we can set two more school records.”