Illinois misses NCAA regional finals spot

By Sumeya Kalib, Staff Writer

After narrowly beating Central Michigan in the first round of NCAA regionals, the Illinois women’s gymnastics team fell to No. 2 UCLA and No. 14 Nebraska for a spot in regional finals. They edged No. 30 Central Michigan 195.325-195.275 during the first round of regional competition and No. 27 West Virginia for third place.

The Illini started off on bars. Juniors Lindsay Dwyer and Morgan Bixler kicked it off with both gaining a 9.750. Redshirt senior Mary Jane Otto produced the highest score from the lineup with a 9.875, while junior Karen Howell followed with a 9.850.

Sitting at fourth, it was up to the beam lineup to bring the Illini back up. Illinois’ beam lineup stuck all of its dismounts to capture 9.800-plus across five gymnasts, with freshman Shaylah Scott leading with a 9.850.

Now in third place, the team produced a 49.175, its second-highest score during the season. Sophomore Kylie Noonan led with a 9.875 and Howell followed with a 9.850.

Sophomore Kasey Meeks made her presence known during the second round of regionals by matching her career-high of 9.900 on vault, the only 9.900 the Illini produced the two days they were present. She also made a debut on floor with a solid 9.825, tying with Scott.

Head coach Nadalie Walsh took to Twitter to compliment Meeks on her performance. “This athlete has the ability and mind of a champion,” she said in the tweet.

Despite the team’s season coming to an end, Walsh was proud of the enthusiasm and work the team put in.

“I am beyond thrilled with how my team performed this entire weekend,” Walsh said, per Illini Athletics. “They hit 100 percent of their routines both days and put everything they had out on the floor, while having an absolute blast the entire time.”

Meeks was in a three-way tie for third on vault, Otto won third and Howell tied for fourth place in the all-around. Those three plus Noonan and Scott were potential individual event specialists for the NCAA Championships; however, no one qualified.

Walsh said she’s honored to have worked with this team who won second at Big Ten Championships and ended its season with a 22-12 overall and 5-4 conference finish.

“They had incredible energy tonight and sometimes it felt like we were the only team in the gym since they were so unified and confident in themselves and one and other,” Walsh said.

[email protected]