No. 14 Illini women’s gymnastics competes for NCAA Championships bid

The No. 14 Illinois women’s gymnastics team is traveling to Seattle for the NCAA West Regional on Saturday.

The Illini will be the third seed in a six-team field that consists of No. 2 Utah, No. 11 Auburn, Boise State, Washington and San Jose State.

There will also be individual competitors from California, Sacramento State, Cal State Fullerton and Alaska competing in all four events and the all-around.

Only the top-two teams of the six-team field will continue to the NCAA Championships. The title winner in each event and the top-two all-around competitors not on a qualifying team will also advance to Lincoln, Neb.

“It is definitely going to be a close meet,” head coach Bob Starkell said. “Utah State has the most experience, particularly with going to nationals, and Auburn and Boise State have very similar teams to us, so this is going to be a very competitive meet.”

Starkell said that one of the benefits of this weekend is that the Illini have already competed in Seattle earlier this season.

“We are familiar with the facility, and we are competing in the same rotation as last time, starting on floor, which is a definite advantage,” Starkell said.

The Illini have been focusing on perfecting their landings on the uneven bars and staying strong on the beam, two areas where they had trouble at the Big Ten Championships on March 21. Starkell said that despite his team being ready physically and mentally, it still has felt uneasy about this weekend.

“We are just trying to correct a lot of our mistakes, and we’re really excited but also nervous because we know that so many people have a shot at qualifying,” freshman Kelsey Joannides said.

Last year, sophomore Allison Buckley and junior Nicole Cowart both qualified individually for nationals, and the team is looking to at least have repeat qualifiers.

“We know the potential is there, we just have to live up to it,” Starkell said.

Starkell said the lineup will probably stay similar to the last few weeks, but there is always room for last-minute changes. Senior Marijka Botterman, possibly facing her last meet, said she hopes to compete in the all-around, which she has only done four times this season. Joannides and Buckley will also most likely join Botterman in the all-around.

“We are ready for this weekend,” Botterman said. “We have improved in every way that you can improve and broken nearly every school record this season. Everyone is healthy, and we know that this is our time.”