Illini of the Week: Allison Buckley

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Illinois’ Allison Buckley competes on the balance beam during the meet against Iowa in Huff Hall on Jan. 24, 2009. Buckley helped lead the women’s gymnastics team qualify for nationals.

By Emily Bayci

Sophomore Allison Buckley had one goal in mind during last Saturday’s NCAA Regional competition: lead the gymnastics team to qualifying for nationals. Last year, she went with only one other Illini gymnast, and she didn’t want that to happen again.

“I really wanted to bring everyone else to nationals because that will make it a way better experience,” Buckley said.

Buckley succeeded in her goal by tying for the beam title and breaking the school record with a 9.950, taking second on the bars and fourth in the all-around with her career-high score of 39.425. She is the third Illini in school history to win an individual regional title.

“I am just excited because this was definitely my best meet of the year on all events,” Buckley said. “This is just the perfect time to peak, of course, and I just think that everyone fed off one another to succeed.”

After two minor surgeries before the season, Buckley is happy to be back in full form. The sophomore took her time coming back as an all-around competitor, starting with one event at a time, starting with the uneven bars and then moving onto floor, beam and vault.

“The really good thing about Allison is she is finally at the point where she left off last season,” head coach Bob Starkell said. “Once she’s at that point where she starts feeling good, she has more potential than nearly anyone else, which is an attribute that really sticks out. She was our most promising gymnast last season, and now she is back at her peak.”

Buckley was excited to take the title in the beam because that has been her favorite event since she started gymnastics at age three. She likes the beam because “it is a more exciting event, but you have to stay calm and collected.”

With previous experience competing at a high level, Buckley tries to be a positive influence for her teammates.

“I want them to know that nationals is just like any other meet but just with higher competition,” Buckley said. “I hope to help my teammates see that we just can’t act nervous.”

Even though Buckley is only a sophomore, her teammates still use her for support.

“Bringing in Allison was really good for our team,” junior Nicole Cowart said. “Her leadership, motivation and enthusiasm spreads like wildfire from one gymnast to another. We just can’t help but be motivated by her.”

With two more years of eligibility, Buckley still has time to make an even larger mark on Illinois gymnastics and hopes to lead more teams to nationals.

“I definitely think that Allison is growing and that she is becoming more of herself, which shows that she is becoming an asset to the team and a great leader,” Cowart said.

Starkell said that Buckley will now have the “championship mentality forever” and that her positive work ethic will motivate the other athletes in the coming years.