Illinois women’s gymnastics compete in first session of Big Ten Championships

By Tyler Fedak

The Big Five Meet last weekend in Columbus, Ohio prepped the Illinois women’s gymnastics team to take on the real deal— the Big Ten Championships.

Last weekend, Illinois went up against Nebraska, Michigan State, Maryland and Ohio State at the Big Five Meet. The Illini were in the running to place within the top-three at the meet, until senior Giana O’Connor sustained an injury on floor.MG

O’Connor’s injury on the last run of her floor routine forced the team to make some last minute additions in the lineup, which slowed down the team’s momentum and led to a fourth place (195.950) finish.

With a finish outside the top three, the Illini were placed in the first session of the Big Ten Championships this weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The morning session of the championships will put No. 25 Illinois up against No.18 Iowa, Maryland and Rutgers. The Illini have seen each of these programs in competition this year, losing only to Iowa (195.125-196.275) at the beginning of February.MG

For the Illini to make a run for the championship title, they will need to shine above the teams in their session and have the best performance of their season.

A major factor of the meet will be whether or not the team can properly account for O’Connor being out of competition. O’Connor’s absence leaves an open spot in each of the four events for head coach Kim Landrus to fill.

“We have people to fill those roles,” Landrus said. “It will be a total team effort for people to step up.”

Last meet, Landrus put in freshman Julia Hutcherson on vault and sophomore Bridget Hodan on the uneven bars and plans to stick to those choices this weekend. As for the remaining events, Landrus has freshman Brielle Nguyen and senior Heather Foley in mind as possible substitutions to compete beam and floor this Saturday.

Even with the event spots filled, the team will be without one of the major team leaders in competition. O’Connor ranks No. 24 nationally in the all-around, No. 6 in the Big Ten, and leads the team with 21 individual event titles this season.MG

“I think (Giana’s injury) is difficult for us because these last competitions are the most important and she was a big part of the team,” freshman Lizzy LeDuc said. “But it’s nice to have her cheering for us on the sidelines.”

The team’s performance this weekend will also depend on whether the gymnasts can put together a successful bars rotation. In the combined past three meets, the Illini have averaged 48.442 on bars. The team has been struggling to hit six routines in the event, leading to lower scores and a lack confidence on the rotation.MG

“I think one of the biggest things is bars; the confidence isn’t there,” LeDuc said. “I feel like if we just get that (confidence) up, it’ll help the team.”

On other events, the Illini have been performing consistently well. Senior Sunny Kato, who leads the Big Ten on beam and nationally ranks No. 4, has led the beam rotation through five straight meets of event totals 49.150 or higher. The Illini have also been producing points on floor and vault, setting season high totals in each of the events in recent meets.MG

If the gymnasts can manage to come together on bars and if they keep the consistent performances on beam, floor and vault, they will be a competitor against teams in the second session of the championships.

“I want to see them go out and be confident, making sure that they put everything in it,” Landrus said. “I want them to have fun and really go back to their training and the ‘why’ and everything that we’ve worked on all year.”

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