Gymnasts prepare to face ranked teams

By Wesley Deberry

With wins in its last two home meets, the women’s gymnastics team hit the road for the first time this season with momentum.

While the Illini performed well in their last two meets against Iowa and Ohio State, they will have to heighten their performance level when they enter the unfriendly confines of Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., to face No. 8 Michigan and No. 6 Nebraska.

To simulate what it will be like in Crisler Arena, the Illini coaching staff put their gymnasts in pressure-packed scenarios during practice, hoping it will ease the nerves of the team during the meet.

In some cases, nerves might affect the performance of a young team. But with a few meets under their belt, the Illini have matured quickly.

Freshman Nicole Cowart is coming off the best performance of her young career last week against Ohio State, winning the all-around title.

Fellow freshman Sarah Schmidt, along with sophomores Marijka Botterman and Kim Kruk, have shown steady improvement in each meet.

Still absent from the lineup for the Illini will be senior captains Danye Botterman and Melissa Singer and freshman Lori Hamilton. Botterman is beginning to regain strength in her hamstring and hopes to be back within the next couple of weeks. Singer will have her cast removed in the coming week and begin her road to recovery.

Friday’s meet marks the beginning of a two-week road trip for the Illini that ends in East Lansing as they take on Michigan State Feb. 17.

“If we keep performing the way we did in our last two meets, we should continue to see success,” assistant coach Kim Landrus said.