Illinois hot streak, careers ended

Senior+Karen+Howell+does+her+beam+routine+against+Central+Michigan+on+Senior+Day+at+Huff+Hall+on+March+1.+Howell+scored+a+9.650+on+the+beam+and+the+Illini+won+the+meet+with+a+score+of+196.225-195.500.

Jeffrey Hsu

Senior Karen Howell does her beam routine against Central Michigan on Senior Day at Huff Hall on March 1. Howell scored a 9.650 on the beam and the Illini won the meet with a score of 196.225-195.500.

By Carson Gourdie, Assistant Sports Editor

Coming off their second-best team performance of the season with a score of 196.250, the Illini women’s gymnastics team started to gain confidence and swagger heading into the final stretch of the season. The scoring came during a close loss at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats on March 6. 

Senior Karen Howell shined across all events, with scores reaching as high as 9.9 on the beam, in what would be her last collegiate meet.

As these athletes, who have put in hours of work each day for years to reach a moment to compete at the highest level, boarded the plane going back to Champaign, they were just weeks away from completing their story at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. 

Little did the seniors and the rest of the team know, something bigger than gymnastics would quickly take that all away. 

The coronavirus pandemic quickly put an end to the season, let alone athletes’ careers, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of thousands of athletes across the nation. Every NCAA tournament has been canceled as a precaution against the virus, as they are trying to curb the virus’ ability to spread to others. 

While the coronavirus has been in the news for months now, its credibility as a world-changing and dangerous virus has strengthened incredibly in the past week or so. Prior to the rumblings of canceling the season, No. 24 Illinois was getting ready to travel to Corvallis, Oregon, to take on the No.15 Oregon State Beavers in its regular-season finale, just before the Big Ten Tournament. The tournament was supposed to take place in Columbus, Ohio on March 21. 

While the players, coaches and fans of the Illini will never know how this season would have unfolded, it’s important to remember what they had already accomplished. 

This was not a storybook season for the Illini by any means. Despite securing a Top 25 spot in the polls, the team had an up-and-down conference campaign, holding a 4-5 record and tied for fourth in the Big Ten, behind the likes of Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan, the latter of which was undefeated in conference play. 

But the way Illinois finished — placing second in the Big Five meet and having a 6-3 record over its last nine meets — is something fans should remember. They can remember a young team with just four seniors setting the path and foundation for a stronger season next year. 

It’s disappointing that athletes like freshman Mia Takekawa, who had a record-breaking season, scoring a perfect 10 on the beam earlier this season, can’t finish the season in front of a national audience. It’s disappointing that seniors who have led the program for years didn’t get one last time to shine. But, some things take precedent over sports. 

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