Illinois women’s gymnastics wins big against Penn State

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Donald Eggert The Daily Illini Illinois’ Nicole Cowart performs her floor exercise routine during the Gymnastics meet against Penn State University at Huff Hall on Saturday, January 17th.

By Emily Bayci

Huff Hall was filled with images of inspiration and encouragement Saturday night. The No. 19 Illinois women’s gymnastics team showed nearly 100 grade school-aged gymnasts exactly what it takes to be a good sport in their victory over No. 11 Penn State.

“Tonight we had the summer camp reunion and we had girls from the YMCA performing. We really try to involve the community in a lot of things that we do,” Illinois head coach Bob Starkell said. “We want younger children to be positively influenced by the girls and their hard work.”

Coming back from a close loss to Michigan last week, Illinois rebounded with a commanding 195.500-192.925 win over the Nittany Lions. In the victory, the Illini improved more than 1.5 points from their last meet and did better on the vault, beam and floor events.

“I think it really helped us to have our first home meet,” junior Nicole Cowart said. “We really handled ourselves well and had a lot of team spirit and positive attitude which reflected on our scores.”

Senior Marijka Botterman and Cowart both turned in high scores on the vault, taking second and third and finishing with 9.875 and 9.850, respectively.

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The Illini’s only weakness appeared during the second rotation as both Botterman and senior Kim Kruk fell on the uneven bars.

The mistakes on the bars were mainly landings that can be improved on in practice, Cowart said.

Fortunately for the Illini, junior Sarah Schmidt and sophomore Allison Buckley stepped up in the uneven bars and took first and second place to keep Illinois in the lead.

It was Buckley’s first showing since suffering an undisclosed injury in the offseason, and she came back strong, Starkell said.

The Illini continued to post standout performances in the second half of competition.

Freshman Kelsey Joannides, sophomore Melissa Fernandez and Penn State’s Allie Southard all tied for the beam title with a score of 9.850.

On the floor exercise, Schmidt took another title, posting her career high of 9.900. She also got her career highs in the bars and vault.

“Everything just really came together today, and this meet really helped me build up my confidence a lot,” Schmidt said.

Cowart performed consistently the entire meet, capturing the all-around competition.

“Nicole’s practice during the week definitely paid off so she maximized on all her strong qualities today,” Starkell said. “That is the number one thing we have to hope for this season – staying consistent and maximizing on everyone’s best qualities to come together as a whole.”

The Illini will return to Huff Hall next Saturday to face the Iowa Hawkeyes in a double-dual meet with the men’s squad.