Women’s gymnastics staying motivated for contest with No. 17 Penn State

When it comes to motivation, the No. 23 Illinois women’s gymnastics team has no problem keeping itself afloat. The Illini will need every bit of motivation they have and more when they travel to University Park, Penn., to face No. 17 Penn State on Saturday.

“Well we haven’t scored a 200.000 yet, so (staying motivated) not a problem,” junior Allison Buckley said. “We’re always motivated to go in and fix things from the last meet because obviously we’re not perfect, and until we reach perfection we’ll stay motivated.”

Illinois, which came in ranked second in the preseason Big Ten rankings to Penn State, will look to continue its recent success against the Nittany Lions after defeating them twice last season, winning at home, 195.500-192.925, and edging them at the conference title meet, 196.750-196.525.

“When (Penn State) pretty much came out and said they would win conference, it added a little spark, some motivation for us,” head coach Bob Starkell said. “Every one of our athletes is smart. They know (Penn State) has good athletes that perform well and good coaches and what we need to do — out-train them, up our level of everything.”

With a win at Iowa last week, the Fighting Illini picked up their first meet title of the season.

The win could not have come at a better time, as the Illini will face No. 21 Michigan State, No. 25 Minnesota and No. 15 Michigan in three straight weekends, following a quick stop in Chicago next Friday.

The squad feels it needs to continue to improve, as it has all season, and not put on the brakes in practice if its going to come out of that stretch with a couple victories.

“There was a little pressure off of us with our first win last week,” junior Melissa Fernandez said. “We were excited we put in a good meet, and I was excited with what I did. But after that performance, it made me even more hungry. I know I can improve and so can the team, even if it means little by little avoiding less tenths of deductions.”

The junior duo of Buckley and Fernandez are hoping to build off of career days from last weekend. Fernandez notched career high scores in both the bars and the all-around while picking up two event titles in the bars and the beam. Buckley also captured an event title in the beam, her 32nd career title, which moved her into a tie for fifth place on the career event title list in Illinois history.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Buckley said. “There are a lot of good people on that list, so it’s exciting to be there with them. And it’s exciting to see where I might be at the end of four years. Hopefully I’ll try to get a few more titles and we’ll see.”