Illinois comes up short, fails to advance in NCAA Regionals

Senior+Nicole+Biondi+runs+through+a+tunnel+of+teammates+before+performing+on+the+bars+at+a+meet+against+Iowa+on+Jan.+31.+The+Illinois+womens+gymnastics+failed+to+advance+to+NCAA+Regionals+in+Athens%2C+Georgia.

Mark Capapas

Senior Nicole Biondi runs through a tunnel of teammates before performing on the bars at a meet against Iowa on Jan. 31. The Illinois women’s gymnastics failed to advance to NCAA Regionals in Athens, Georgia.

By Jonah Perez, Staff Writer

As expected, No. 1 Florida and No. 8 Minnesota dominated their respective sessions. The Gators won session two with a 197.950, and the Golden Gophers won session one with a 197.625.

However, unlike No. 9 Denver, which was able to survive a surprise upset bid during session one from the hosts of the event, No. 18 Georgia, No. 16 Illinois could not, as it was upset by No. 26 North Carolina State during session two for one of the four regional final spots.

“I wouldn’t trade this season for anything,” said head coach Nadalie Walsh. “I think the lessons that everyone learned about ourselves and the passion for the sport is never going to change.

“We of course would have wanted another round, and it’s a bittersweet ending, but they will get better and better at being at this kind of stage and arena.”

As the season comes to an end, this is probably the last time many of the six seniors represent the Illini in competition.

For seniors Nicole Biondi, Rachel Borden, Kasey Meeks, Kylie Noonan, Tessa Phillips and Jaylen Spence, they now have a decision to make. The pandemic gives them all an opportunity to use an extra year of eligibility. Everybody deals with different circumstances, and we’ll see where they all go from here.

On vault, the Illini finished second with a score of 49.175. Their highest finisher was sophomore Mia Townes, who scored a 9.875, which was good enough for third place individually out of 25.

On bars, Illinois finished third with a score of 49.050. Their highest score was a 9.850 by both freshman Kaitlyn Ewald and sophomore Olivia O’Donnell, good for joint 11th place finishes out of 27 competitors.

On beam, the Illini finished fourth by scoring a 48.950. Their highest finishers were Borden and Townes, who both scored 9.850, which earned them an eighth place finish out of 28 gymnasts.

On floor, Illinois finished third with a score of 49.200. Their highest score was a 9.900 by junior Shaylah Scott, which individually was good enough for third out of 26.

Beam is where the Illini made a couple of costly mistakes. In this competition, six gymnasts from each school compete in each of the four events during four rotations, and the lowest score is always dropped.

Biondi was not on par with her usual high standards and scored a 9.675, but the Illini had the “lowest score being dropped” rule to lean on. The problem, however, is sophomore Mia Takekawa then fell off the beam during her routine and got penalized with a 9.025.

This put the Illini in the hole, and they ended up not being able to climb out in the end. Without those errors, it’s very likely the Illini would have scrapped by and not been sent home.

It was a season defined by the pandemic, but it was also defined by the resiliency these girls showed, whether it was their impressive road record of 5-2 or the record-breaking performance they had against Minnesota earlier this season

This season was one of the toughest of all-time, yet the Illini came into the gym ready to go and ready to show just how good they can be. Yes, the season ended earlier than expected, but no one can deny the impact this particular team had on the program now and into the future.

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