Women’s gymnastics achieves high scores in weekend meets

Illini gymnast Michelle McGrady is comforted by teammate Kimberly Kruk and others after being injured in the meet against Auburn on Friday March 9, 2007 at Huff Hall. ME Online

Illini gymnast Michelle McGrady is comforted by teammate Kimberly Kruk and others after being injured in the meet against Auburn on Friday March 9, 2007 at Huff Hall. ME Online

By Wesley Deberry

The Illini women’s gymnastics team stared into the dark eyes of adversity on Friday night at Huff Hall. Leading No. 16 Auburn 147.275 – 146.950 going into the last event, floor exercise, the Illini could not have asked for a better scenario. However, sophomore Julie Crall injured here Achilles tendon while warming up.

“When Julie tore her Achilles that made everyone really nervous,” sophomore Marijka Botterman said.

With Crall out, head coach Bob Starkell looked to his senior captain, Cara Pomeroy, to fill the vacancy in the line-up. In the past, Pomeroy has struggled with floor exercise. On this night, though, Pomeroy calmly executed her floor routine with little difficulty scoring a 9.675. Pomeroy’s performance helped propel the Illini to victory over Auburn 195.975 – 195.775.

“She did a great job,” Starkell said about Pomeroy. “That’s what seniors do though … when push comes to shove, seniors are able to step up and show they have experience.”

Aside from Pomeroy’s floor performance, she won the uneven bars event with a score of 9.925 and finished third on balance beam with a score of 9.850.

Also scoring high for the Illini was Botterman, winning the vault title with a score of 9.900 and taking third on the uneven bars with a score of 9.825. Botterman’s performance earned her second place in the all-around scores, finishing with a 39.225 behind Auburn Julie Dwyer who finished with a score of 39.300.

“Marijka Botterman had a really good meet,” Starkell said. “She has been getting better and better each week.”

Freshman Nicole Cowart also continued to show improvement in Friday’s meet. She won floor exercise for the Illini with a score of 9.875 and finished fourth in all-around with a score of 39.175.

Though Crall was forced out of the line-up due to injury, she was able to make her presence felt early in the competition with a nearly-flawless performance on balance beam, earning a career-high score of 9.900.

The extent of Crall’s injury will not be known until Tuesday, Starkell said.

A lot of energy was expended in the Illini’s impressive victory on Friday, and for the first time this season, they had another competition within 48 hours, as they traveled to Denver to face No. 14 Denver University on Sunday.

When asked after Friday’s meet if the team would have enough energy to put forth the same effort in Denver, Cowart said, “We surely will, I think this momentum is just going to carry over into Denver.”

Cowart’s prophecy was correct as the Illini took an early lead over Denver University after the first rotation 48.900-48.800. The see-saw battle continued through the meet. Coming into the final event, balance beam, the Illini were ahead of Denver University 146.175 – 145.475. However, the Illini struggled on balance beam as they were forced to count a fall in their team score. In the end, the Illini’s efforts were not enough to come away with a victory. Denver narrowly escaped with a 194.750- 194.525 victory.

“We really had a good showing. I really don’t know if I could have asked much more,” Starkell said.

Leading the way for the Illini in Denver was Cowart, who finished second on balance beam with a score of 9.825 and second in all-around with a score of 39.200. Freshman counterpart Sarah Schmidt also did well for the Illini, winning the vault title with a score of 9.850 and taking third in all-around with a score of 38.900.

“Our freshmen are doing above and beyond what I thought they would be doing at this point in the year,” Starkell said.

Aside from the performance of the freshmen, Krystal Melcarek, Michelle McGrady and Pomeroy were faced with the task of filling in for Crall. All three gymnasts picked up the slack left behind by Crall – Melcarek scored a 9.525 on vault, Mcgrady scored a 9.275 on beam and Pomeroy scored a 9.775 on floor.

“We all stuck together really well and stayed positive … Overall the meet was a success and we are really happy with what we did,” Pomeroy said.

With the hard weekend behind them, the Illini are tied at No. 19 with Ohio and are one step away from reaching their goal of being ranked in the top 18 teams for the regional tournament.

The Illini will return home on Saturday to face Illinois-Chicago at 2 p.m. This will be the Illini’s last home meet.

“Our objective in our last home meet is to have our best meet of the year,” Starkell said. “We’re trying to hit 24 out of 24 routines at the highest level.”