Injuries put strain on women’s gymnastics

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Illinois gymnast Nicole Cowart performs on the uneven parallel bars during the meet at Huff Hall on Sunday. Illinois will travel to Bloomington, Ill. this Sunday for a meet against Illinois State and Wisconsin-Lacrosse. ME Online

By Wesley Deberry

Ice bags and plastic wrap were in high demand this week at the Illini women’s gymnastics team’s practices as the physical strain of the long season is beginning to take its toll.

“Everyone has little aches and pains,” said sophomore Marijka Botterman, who has been battling a cold this week.

“Some of us have more than just aches and pains, but we have to get through them,” she said.

Though the Illini are suffering from some physical strain, their mental strength is at the high point of the season after last week’s season high team score of 195.925.

The Illini hope that their excitement will carry them through their meet this weekend, as they take a ride down I-74 to Normal Ill., to face Illinois State and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse on Sunday.

Last year the Illini were able to defeat Illinois State 194.175-187.875 despite not having their best showing.

Illinois State comes into Sunday’s meet having suffered losses in their last two meets against the University of Illinois-Chicago and Eastern Michigan University.

Wisconsin-La Crosse is the six-time defending National Collegiate Gymnastics Association (Division III) National Champion.

However, Sunday’s meet will expose Wisconsin-La Crosse to the competition level of Division I athletes, which they have not seen all year.

With the competition not as threatening as it has been in previous weeks, the Illini come into Sunday’s meet as the heavy favorite.

Knowing this, and not wanting his team to get complacent, head coach Bob Starkell challenged his team not to play to the level of its competition, but to improve upon the mistakes it made last week and strive to do even better.

A high team score in Sunday’s meet will help the Illini in the overall picture of their season because it will increase their regional qualifying score.

“We are counting a 192 and a 193 right now which is keeping us out of the top 18 rankings for the regional tournament,” freshman Nicole Cowart said.

With their team goal of being ranked in the top 18 teams for the regional tournament unfulfilled, the Illini searched this week for places to improve their performance.

Starkell and his staff put a specific emphasis on last meet’s weak point: floor exercise.

“We really put things under the microscope this week to try to improve,” Starkell said.