Illinois women’s gymnastics takes same approach for double-meet weekend

The Illinois women’s gymnastics team is currently on a four-meet winning streak, and senior Sunny Kato views this double-meet weekend as an exciting opportunity for her team.

“The more you get to compete, the better it is,” Kato said. “We’re going to take advantage of this opportunity and go after it.”

Friday night, No. 16 Illinois will host No. 1 Oklahoma at Huff Hall for the final home meet of the season. Then, Sunday afternoon, Illinois will compete at the Masters Classic against No. 8 Nebraska and San Jose State in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Oklahoma is also the reigning co-national champion with Florida, but sophomore Mary Jane Horth said there’s no intimidation factor at all. Rather, she thinks it’s motivating for the Illini, and Kato agreed.

“We’re just really excited to know that we’re able to compete against the No. 1 team in the nation,” Kato said. “A lot of teams don’t get that opportunity.”

“With Oklahoma, just ‘cause they’re No. 1, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a chance to beat them or get as good scores as they (get),” Kato continued. “We’ve made it to NCAAs the past few years, and they’ve done the same thing, so why can’t we be as good as them?”

As for Sunday’s tri-meet, the Illini aren’t worried about that yet. Horth said her team hasn’t even spoken much about the tri-meet aside from travel plans.

In preparation for the double-meet weekend, Illinois has not approached its training any differently. The Illini have practiced just as hard with their three training days despite the extra competition this weekend. In fact, Horth and Kato both admitted practices are more difficult than meets.

Illinois remains focused on the little things as well, but Horth mentioned the team is looking to be more aggressive with those details and is not afraid to attack them.

The Illini have dropped out of the national vault rankings, but they remain ranked on all other events. Bars continues to be Illinois’ best event, as it’s the only one in which it’s ranked in the top 10. However, the only team this weekend they have an advantage over in the rankings is unranked San Jose State. In fact, the Spartans’ total score has only been more than 195 once this season, while the Illini are averaging a 196.068.

Oklahoma is not only ranked No. 1 overall, but the Sooners are also No. 1 on uneven bars, balance beam and floor. They’re also No. 2 on vault, where they trail No. 1 Utah by 0.005. Nebraska is ranked on all events.

Despite the high level of competition, Kato said the Illini aren’t concerned, because she knows they have what it takes to succeed.

“The confidence is there,” Kato said. “We just need to continue to do what we’ve been doing every day at practice.”

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