Starkell named Coach of the Year

This season, head coach Bob Starkell has led the Illinois women’s gymnastics team to posting its best scores in school history with new records for the team’s all-around total and scores on the vault, floor and beam routines. Two athletes, senior Marijka Botterman on the vault and junior Sarah Schmidt on the floor, have set school records. Freshman Kelsey Joannides and Schmidt also took Big Ten titles.

With all these accomplishments, it’s no surprise Starkell was named Co-Big Ten Coach of the Year along with Penn State’s Steve Shephard at the Big Ten Gymnastics Championships on March 21. This is the second time that Starkell has received this honor, with the first coming in 2005.

“Getting this reward is really a reflection on my athletes,” Starkell said. “To do well as a coach, you have to surround yourself by good people, and this accomplishment is all due to the work ethic of my athletes.

“It’s a great honor to be co-coach of the year with Steve because I’ve always looked towards him for mentorship when it comes to coaching and how the Penn State team does every year.”

While Coach of the Year is an honor voted on by all the other Big Ten gymnastics coaches, the Illini gymnasts believed that Starkell deserved the honor.

“Bob really is coach of the year,” Joannides said. “He is always there for us, supporting us and motivating us to do better.”

Starkell said that he has always tried to be a coach and a friend to his athletes during his time as a coach.

He has been involved in gymnastics all his life, competing from the age of 5 to 24. Starkell began coaching at Wisconsin-Oshkosh while finishing his degree because he “really needed the money to get through college.” After serving as the head men and women’s gymnastics coach, he ended up loving it and then moved on to Illinois where he has been for 16 years, serving as assistant coach for the first six years.

Starkell’s squads have posted all of the top-10 team scores in school history.

Starkell said that in his time at Illinois he has worked on having solid recruitment classes to improve the program. Starting three years ago with this year’s senior class, all hailing from Illinois, he said he has continued to bring in consistent all-around competitors and better performers on the beam.

“In my four years as a gymnast here I have really gotten to know Bob,” Botterman said. “I have gotten to like him not only as a coach, but as a friend, and I admire how hard he works to help us succeed. I am really going to miss him next year.”

Botterman said that one way Starkell has changed during her time at Illinois is that he has let the team push itself more while still offering support.

This season, Starkell hopes to send the Illini to the national championships for the first time. In the meantime, he wants to work on continuing to be a gymnastics coach that produces a consistent team.

“I just want to keep trying to be an ideal coach by excelling in all the important areas — being good with people, being patient with the athletes because they are highly competitive, and I need to help them be as good as they want to be, while still controlling their energy levels so that they can be efficient and productive athletes,” Starkell said. “The last and most important part of being a coach is to have fun and enjoy the process because gymnastics is not a life-threatening sport, and you might as well just do something you enjoy and keep encouraging young people to do well.”