Illini sweep events on the road, knock off Penn State

Senior+Nicole+Biondi+performs+her+uneven+bars+routine+during+the+meet+against+Iowa+on+Jan.+31.

Mark Capapas

Senior Nicole Biondi performs her uneven bars routine during the meet against Iowa on Jan. 31.

By Jonah Perez, Staff Writer

No. 20 Illinois extended their impressive road record to 5-1, beating No. 31 Penn State 196.300 to 195.275. It’s their new high of the season, improving their overall record to 5-2.

“This team is rising to every challenge,” said head coach Nadalie Walsh. “They are getting stronger each week at handling the pressures of putting stellar routines and full meets together. I am very excited about the future for these fighting Illini ladies.”

The Illini won all four events and three of the event titles individually outright. They won vault 48.775 to 48.500 behind sophomore Arayah Simon’s 9.825, the beam 49.100 to 48.900, behind sophomore Mia Takekawa’s 9.925 and floor with a season-high of 49.250 to 48.750 behind Simon’s career-best 9.950. The 9.950 was also the highest score during the meet.

On bars, they won with a season-high of 49.175 to 48.750 behind an individual three-way tie of 9.875 between Penn State’s senior Alissa Bonsall, Illinois’ senior Nicole Biondi, Takekawa and freshman Kaitlyn Ewald.

This win comes off last week’s loss against No. 17 Michigan State and No. 26 Ohio State where they got a season-high of 196.075 but still fell short of first at the tri-meet.

The Illini might have only had three practices this past week, but most wouldn’t know it after this match. It says a lot about the talent and character of this team to break their season-high point total two weeks in a row.

They worked on things like breathing and tightness this week to get those extra points needed to win, which can determine outcomes.

They are now 3-1 against Penn State under the stewardship of coach Walsh. The 75% winning percentage is the second-best of any opponent since coach Walsh was hired in June 2017.

Biondi competed in the first Illini all-around matchup of the season. She beat Penn State’s sophomore Cassidy Rushlow 39.350 to 38.475 for the title.

She was as consistent as they come, finishing tied for 1st on bars and 3rd on every other event.

“Nicole Biondi was a rock star today,” Walsh said. “Having her back in the all-around is a big victory. She has done a great job of preparing herself so we are all very proud to see her shine tonight.”

The all-around performance from Biondi shows the versatility coach Walsh had talked about earlier this week the team having. She can rotate who competes on each event and still have confidence they’ll pull through and win.

The Illini were supposed to face Michigan State, but COVID-19 issues within the program forced a delay. Both schools have been working with the Big Ten to look at rescheduling options.

The matchup with the Spartans would have been the last conference matchup of the regular season. The matchups against No. 9 Iowa on March 6 and No. 12 Minnesota on March 13 are technically non-conference.

At this moment the Big Five tournament is what’s next.

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