Illini of the Week: Joannides wins 3 titles in weekend tournament

Most of last week’s practices for the No. 18 Illinois women’s gymnastics team proceeded as normal, except for one important absence: senior team leader Kelsey Joannides.

Joannides caught the stomach flu after the quad meet held at Navy Pier in Chicago last weekend. The first time she came to the gym to practice for the upcoming double meet weekend was Thursday afternoon.

“I was down for the count from last Sunday until this past Thursday,” Joannides said. “I wasn’t at practice and I just had a terrible stomach ache. I was home completely sick and in bed. So it was a rough week.”

Only being able to touch up on the events due to her sickness, Joannides was unsure if she would even compete this past weekend. Without much practice of full routines on any of the events, Joannides and Illinois head coach Kim Landrus decided collectively that she would compete in only two events Friday against Michigan State.

“It was a play-it-by-ear situation,” Landrus said. “After seeing her come in to practice and doing some stuff on all of the events on Thursday, we made a game plan that on Friday she would compete in two events and practice a little bit on the other two and have her go all-around on Sunday.”

Joannides competed on the vault and balance beam, where she scored a 9.775 and 9.825, respectively. The scores placed her third on the vault and tied her for third on the beam.

“Just because I had been out of the gym, and not moving around and moving my body, it affected my cardio for bars and floor,”

Joannides said. “Which is exactly why on Friday I only contributed for vault and beam. I think I could have gone through a routine, but they wouldn’t have been clean, and when we have enough depth in the lineup for other people to go, it wasn’t worth pushing myself when we had two meets this weekend.”

With Joannides not in the lineup for the uneven bars and floor exercise, it gave her fellow senior teammate Hannah Welker a chance to shine. Having never competed on the floor before, Welker was placed in the lineup in the anchor position.

“Hannah (Welker) couldn’t have competed her floor routine any better,” Joannides said. “It was so exciting, and I am so happy that she got the chance to compete. It shows that she was ready and she hit her routine, she made it count. It was just the best feeling ever being able to watch.”

With a score of 9.775 on the floor, Welker earned her first career title on the event, tying for third with teammate sophomore Sarah Fielder. Only having to focus on two routines for the night, Joannides found herself giving support from the sidelines to the teammates who were competing in her place.

“Kelsey (Joannides) is a great teammate and I know that she wanted the alternate that went in for her on bars and floor to do extremely well routines,” Landrus said. “I think that those alternates needed to have the support of Kelsey when they went out there to compete.”

After Friday’s meet, the Illini traveled to compete against No. 24 Arizona State on Sunday. Joannides felt well enough to compete in all events, so she entered into the all-around competition with confidence.

“I wasn’t expecting to go out there and win,” Joannides said. “I don’t go in with that kind of thought train, but I definitely go in expecting to hit. Yeah, I didn’t practice all week, and I had thought about that slightly, but I kind of took a step back right before I competed and after I talked to the coaches and they said, ‘Do you feel prepared to compete in the all around?’. I thought to myself, maybe I wasn’t in the gym all week, but I have been doing gymnastics for a solid 15 years now. So if that didn’t give me the confidence to do my routines, I don’t know what did.”

Joannides scored a 9.85 on the vault and a 9.9 on the balance beam Sunday, awarding her two first place event titles. With a total score of 39.350, she also took first in the all-around. Though Joannides overcame her illness and took first in the all-around, it was not something that she felt was a big triumph.

“I don’t really think of it as being, ‘Oh I was sick and competed,’” Joannides said. “Gymnastics is gymnastics, and the coaches treated me the same way as if I had practiced all week. They told me the same key words, the same things to focus on, and I kept it consistent.”