Head coach hopes second Big Ten loss will inspire team

By Sumeya Kalib, Staff writer

The Illinois women’s gymnastics team faced off against Penn State over the weekend. Although the team took home three of the five individual titles, the Illini lost to the Nittany Lions 195.275-193.500.

Illinois won the vault event 48.825-48.650, something it was not able to do against either of its last two opponents, Nebraska and Maryland. Penn State caught up and gained a small lead during the second rotation, but a rough beam routine destroyed the chance of catching up.

Sophomore Kasey Meeks took home vault (9.825), junior Karen Howell won bars (9.850), and freshman Shayla Scott hit a career-high routine on beam (9.825). Howell finished second all-around, the third consecutive time she’s made the top three this season.

However, the meet’s lineup strayed away from its usual gymnasts. While some freshmen had “first-meet jitters,” they still prevailed with some standout performances.

“We went into the meet with a specific lineup and every line up changed; that is definitely something you don’t expect when you prepare for,” said head coach Nadalie Walsh. “We had plenty of depth; we’re prepared to put people in these positions, which I’m so proud that they could go out there and the next time they go out there they’ll be more confident.”

The Illini’s stronger mindset going into their routines paid off, especially with senior Haylee Roe, who landed a solid 9.825 for her routine to the iconic ’90s song “Ice Ice Baby.”

“Haylee Roe had an outstanding floor routine which was so great to see; she doesn’t get to train a ton because of her body,” Walsh said. “As a coach, it makes me so happy to see when they do the mental training and they go out and they can still do the physical aspect of it, and to do it as well as she did is outstanding.”

Howell believed the team’s dismounts were not the best but can be addressed during training. Regardless, the team has focused on not stressing over its smaller mistakes.

“In the past, we may have been very stressed out about it, but there was a very light atmosphere of the entire competition today,” Howell said. “So I think that was really good to have new people come into lineup and everyone be so excited for them, and confident, and backing them up no matter what.”

According to Walsh, the team has faced its fair share of adversity so far this season, which is uncharacteristic. She hopes the team’s second Big Ten loss will only make it stronger.

“It’s going to make them dig deeper, and I can already see the fight in the Illini is coming out on them and they’re not retracting,” Walsh said. “We’re not going to retract; we’re going to keep pressing on.”

Illinois’ next meet is against Michigan State on Saturday, where 2008 Olympic silver medalist Samantha Peszek will be present. The Illini are hoping to break their attendance record of 2,387 at Huff Hall.

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