Cowart’s career best performance helps women’s gymnastics slip by Ohio State

By Wesley Deberry

With the Illini ahead by a few tenths of a point, freshman gymnast Nicole Cowart stood in a statue-like pose as she waited to begin her floor exercise in Saturday’s meet against No. 19 Ohio State. In need of a strong performance for her team, Cowart executed a nearly flawless floor exercise, earning a career best score of 9.8.

“With a couple of meets under her belt, she is really beginning to find herself, and I think she is going to be a key factor in determining how well we do toward the end of the season,” head coach Bob Starkell said.

Cowart’s floor performance, accompanied by another personal best score of 9.775 on the uneven bars and solid scores on vault and balance beam, earned her the all-around title in Saturday’s meet.

By narrowly beating Ohio State 194.950 to 194.000, the Illini extended their win streak to two.

While Cowart’s performance played a big role in the victory, on this night, it was truly a team effort.

Aside from Cowart, sophomore Marijka Botterman posted a career best score on uneven bars while fellow classmate Lindsey Smith posted a best on floor exercise. Freshman Sarah Schmidt also posted personal bests on uneven bars and balance beam. Winning an individual title for the Illini was sophomore Julie Crall.

“We were just looking to see improvement this week,” Starkell said.

While the Illini did improve, they fell short of their team goal of obtaining a team score of 195.000 or higher. This was do in part to their struggles at the end of the competition on the floor exercise.

“I tell these girls in order to be a strong team you have to finish strong, but a lot of that comes with experience,” Starkell said.

Though the last event of the competition made Starkell a bit uneasy, he never lost faith that his team would perform well. Starkell said the team will work on finishing strong and correcting some of its minor mistakes in practice this week.