Illinois women's gymnastics rides momentum going into double header weekend

Giana+O%27Connor+on+the+bars+during+the+match+against+Michigan+at+Huff+Hall+on+January+22%2C+2016.+Michigan+won+196.825+to+195.15.%0D
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Illinois women's gymnastics rides momentum going into double header weekend

Giana O'Connor on the bars during the match against Michigan at Huff Hall on January 22, 2016. Michigan won 196.825 to 195.15.

Giana O'Connor on the bars during the match against Michigan at Huff Hall on January 22, 2016. Michigan won 196.825 to 195.15.

Justin Wolfe | The Daily Illini

Giana O'Connor on the bars during the match against Michigan at Huff Hall on January 22, 2016. Michigan won 196.825 to 195.15.

Justin Wolfe | The Daily Illini

Justin Wolfe | The Daily Illini

Giana O'Connor on the bars during the match against Michigan at Huff Hall on January 22, 2016. Michigan won 196.825 to 195.15.

By Tyler Fedak

Tweet: @IlliniWGym the Illini have high energy going into their two competitions this weekend #Illini

Prior to last weekend’s matchup against Michigan State, the Illini hadn’t put everything together in competition. 

Then, against the Spartans, Illinois went out and performed a program-record beam routine.

The No. 24 Illini (3-4, 3-3 Big Ten) plan to take the momentum from last weekend into this weekend’s doubleheader.

Sophomore Jordyn Givens attributes the successful meet to a high-energy atmosphere and her teammates having fun with their sport.

“I think last meet was definitely what we needed, we finally put all the pieces together and we gained the confidence we needed; the meet was truly fun,” Givens said. “The energy was up, we just went from event to event, loving the sport that we do.”

Givens, who usually specializes on vault, performed her first career bars routine with the Illini last weekend and, along with Sarah Lyons, led the team with a 9.800. Givens has been training hard to get into the bar lineup and said she’s happy to help the team out in another aspect of competition.

The team has talked a lot about how hard they’re working in practice, and assistant coach Chad Wiest finally saw the practice come to life in competition last meet.

“I think the hard work is really paying off for these girls. They came into the meet focused, determined and with high energy,” Wiest said. “If we can take another step forward, carrying that momentum from Michigan State and improving just a little bit each competition, then this will be a very successful weekend.”

Considering there are only a few weeks left in the regular season, Illinois will need to see success in this weekend’s matchups. Senior Sunny Kato, who earned Big Ten Event Specialist of the Week honors last week, is confident that the team will be able to perform with the same, if not better, energy that it showed in competition last meet.

“We’re really excited for the doubleheader. Practices have been really exciting and we’ve been having a lot of fun,” Kato said. “I think we’re going to want to carry that same energy from Michigan State into our double meet weekend.”

Illinois starts the weekend at Huff Hall against Iowa State. The Cyclones average a 194.715 in competition this year with a season high total of 195.650. The Illini average 195.411 average with a season-high score of 196.300.

For the seniors on the team, Friday night’s final home meet of the season marks a sentimental moment in their Illinois gymnastic careers. Kato said she is grateful for every meet she gets to spend at Huff.

“Obviously it’s bittersweet. I’ve had an extra year here and I’m really lucky for that. So every single time I’ve been in Huff, I didn’t take it for granted,” Kato said. “I’m going into it feeling really lucky every time.”

After Senior Night, the Illini will travel St. Charles, Missouri, to take on the Lindenwood Lions. The Lions average a 192.900 on the season and have only broken above 195 once. Despite its  advantage, Illinois will still need to perform a strong meet to help boost its regional qualifying score.

The Illini could use strong performances throughout the weekend from freshman Lizzy LeDuc, who had career-best performances in the all-around the past three consecutive meets and won Big Ten Freshman Gymnast of the Week. Fellow all-around senior Giana O’Connor is also riding positive momentum, having garnered three titles at Michigan State.

With NCAA Regionals coming into the picture, Illinois will need to have as many solid competitions as possible at the end of the season to make sure it will qualify. Givens is confident the Illini’s new-found confidence will impress when it comes to the Big Ten Champonships and beyond.

“If we continue putting our pieces together then we’ll be ready,” Givens said. “I’m just ready for us to surprise everyone.”

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Sources: fightingillini.com, bigten.org, ncaa.com, lindenwoodlions.com, cyclones.com