No. 22 Illinois women’s gymnastics gears up for Metroplex Challenge

By Theo Gary, Staff Writer

After a loss at Minnesota last weekend, No. 22 Illinois women’s gymnastics is headed north to O’Hare and then south to Fort Worth for the Metroplex Challenge. Three others — No. 4 Utah, No. 18 Georgia and Illinois State — will make the trip with Illinois.

The Illini, now 4–3 on the season and 2–1 in conference play, are still performing well even when considering the loss to Minnesota. 

“We did not have a bad meet,” Head Coach Nadalie Walsh said. “Our meet wasn’t as good as the one prior, but it was definitely still a good meet.” 

Despite that good meet, Illinois still lost. They scored almost a full point under where they had been the last two weeks — 195.775 against Minnesota, compared to 196.700 and 196.575 against Nebraska and Rutgers respectively. 

“Gymnastics is one of those sports that is very subjective,” Walsh said. “Unfortunately, the judges at that competition were not going to give 9.8s, 9.9s. They were very, I would say, more stingy, and that causes all those small four-tenths and half-tenths over the whole meet to add up to a point or more.”

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For the Illini, what’s important is to move forward and, like usual, to focus on themselves. After all, gymnastics is an individual sport.

“They just experienced what it was like to have to block out the fact that they were doing a good routine and not getting rewarded for it,” Walsh said. “And go back to the gym and do even better at practice. And that’s pretty much how we have to move forward, is deciding to not let it define us.”

As for the Metroplex Challenge, it is, obviously, a challenge and not a regular meet. The equipment is raised, and it feels different. The setting is strange: it’s out of town and entails a day of travel.  

“It’s a big meet with a lot of teams in two sessions and it’s on a podium, which means all of the equipment’s elevated. So it’ll change a little bit of the way the equipment feels. So we have been focusing on just training for that surface,” Walsh said.

Illinois announced that it was competing in the Metroplex Challenge only four days ago, a full five days before the meet. They were originally scheduled for a meet in New York, but the Illini got stiffed, so now they’re going to the DFW, far from the East Coast. 

“We were supposed to go to New York City for a meet, and that got canceled on us. So this was an opportunity that I found and just jumped on it right away,” Walsh said. “(I wanted) to make sure that we give my team just as many opportunities to compete as if we didn’t lose that other competition.”

In a bit of good luck, four of Illinois’ gymnasts are from Texas, making this meet a homecoming of sorts. 

“We have four different athletes from Texas, so I think this is going to be an extremely wonderful meet for everybody,” Walsh said. “Because anytime you’re able to get back to your hometown, and a quarter of the team is from there, it’s going to be a really fun environment to have.”

This Illinois team, ranked No. 22 in the country, is ready to go. 

“The team is connected, and they are on the same page,” Walsh said. “But we’re going to dive deeper than that, so that everybody feels even more unified and invested in each other when we get to the Metroplex Challenge.”


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