No. 20 Illini women’s gymnastics wins against Spartans

The No. 20 Illinois women’s gymnastics team does not crunch numbers during meets, but it does know when it needs a big performance from someone in a close match.

Led by senior Sarah Schmidt and junior Allison Buckley, Illinois defeated No. 22 Michigan State, 195.600-195.500, in comeback fashion Sunday afternoon during the team’s third annual “Think Pink” meet. With the win, the squad also garnered the first ever Victory Plank trophy, handed to the winner of the annual meet between the two teams.

Heading into the final event, the Fighting Illini trailed by two tenths of a point before getting back-to-back strong performances from Buckley and Schmidt on the floor. Buckley posted a 9.900 and cemented her victory in the all-around, while Schmidt captured the floor crown and clinched the come-from-behind win, tallying a 9.925.

“I was pretty psyched up right before,” Schmidt said of taking the floor for her routine. “After a slip to start, everyone else did well, and they just gave me a chance to do well. It was also my chance to fix some mistakes from last week, and it went well. After I hit the last pass in the routine I felt excited, like I nailed it.”

Sunday’s win came on the heels of a third-place finish Friday at the four-team IGI Chicago Style Invite. The Illini scored a 194.225, finishing behind No. 10 Nebraska and No. 19 Denver. Junior Melissa Fernandez won the all-around and set a new career high for the third straight week with a score of 39.275.

Against the Spartans, Illinois head coach Bob Starkell was left impressed with the team’s strong finish after a few early woes.

“They handled it better than the coaches, I think,” Starkell said. “Samantha (Perino) missed to start, so we knew, after that, every (routine) was going to count, and I was really impressed on how they handled themselves.”

Along with the floor crown, Schmidt shared the bars title with Fernandez, as each scored a 9.900. Fernandez went on to tie for first place on the vault, sharing the crown with freshman teammate Jaclyn Kantecki. The event title was the first of Kantecki’s career.

“I’m so excited,” Kantecki said. “It was a good week of practice — been working on consistency and making other adjustments. Just nailing the vault was icing on the cake.”