Illinois returns to Huff Hall for final home meet of season


Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Senior Nicole Biondi performs her floor routine during the meet against Michigan on Feb. 21. The Illinois women’s gymnastics team will compete against Minnesota tonight.

By Jonah Perez, Staff Writer

No. 21 Illinois hosts No. 7 Minnesota at Huff Hall this weekend for the last home meet this season and the last meet before the Big Ten Championships.

“Minnesota was a great team, and I think, honestly, we need to do what we do in practice,” said gymnastics head coach Nadalie Walsh. “We need to be at our best. We can definitely meet up with them. I don’t think that they’re out of our reach in any ways. We are a team that has developed this year into an even stronger team.”

Last time out Illinois lost to No. 19 Iowa 196.450-196.225. Though the Illini were fully capable of coming out on top, Walsh credited the loss to bad landings, among others small things. She liked the Illini’s spirit, but she also wants to see improvements in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Minnesota beat No. 35 Nebraska 197.400-196.150 in their most recent meet.

This week’s practices were focused on things like patience and landings. It’s the only thing the Illini haven’t done consistently throughout the season, Walsh says, and one of the most important things to senior Nicole Biondi.

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The key to a good landing is not moving your feet after a routine. After they release the dismount or punch for design, they need to avoid rushing and focus all the way through each routine.

“We sat down and all got on the same page…just because we have been through a lot this season and remembering our goals just to keep us moving forward,” Biondi said. “We kind of talked about just taking every turn and making it count like a competition. So, we kind of just went in and kind of took every turn as a group competing instead of just at practice.”

This week the Illini’s team national qualifying score rose from 196.406 to 196.444 and keeps them at fourth in the South Central region, tied with No. 21 Missouri and behind No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 9 Arkansas and No. 10 Arizona State.

In the Big Ten, Illinois is also in fourth in terms of the team’s national qualifying score, behind Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan.

This is a big matchup because of how much the team NQS plays a role in the Big Ten Conference’s championship seeding, as this is the Illini’s last opportunity to affect their score and seed.

As this is the last home meet of the season, it’s the last time the seniors take the mat for competition at Huff Hall.

Biondi understands this, but she is still focused on helping the team in any way she can. They have big goals, and she doesn’t want to distract the team from it.

“We have a great group of seniors, six competitors, that’ll be graduating and one manager/student assistant, and I think that every single one of these ladies mean so much to me and to the program,” Walsh said. “They’re my true first freshmen (class). So, I’ve been here four years. They’ve been here four years. So having them graduate, it’s a bittersweet moment. I’m excited to see them move on and do the great things that they will do with their lives, but it’s definitely sad to have them not be here anymore.”



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