Illinois women’s gymnastics team looks to take ‘next step’ against Minnesota

Despite starting the season 2-0, the details will determine the continuation of success for the Illinois women’s gymnastics team this Saturday in Minnesota.

“We made some really big strides from the first weekend to the second weekend,” associate head coach Jay Santos said. “I think it’s really going to come down to who can take another step, who can improve on their performances a little bit more and really go in and hit a clean meet.

“Basically, we’ve just been really trying to instill upon them this week to just take that next step.”

In the national rankings, Illinois started at No. 16. It then moved up to No. 13 following its season opener at Michigan State. The Illini now sit at No. 11 after a 196.175 performance at last weekend’s home opener.

The Illini have yet to face a top-25 opponent this season. Michigan State was absent in the preseason rankings. Coming into the home opener, Wisconsin-Eau Claire sat at No. 64 with Centenary College right behind them. But facing Minnesota will be a different story.

No. 13 Minnesota owns an average score of 195.600 after three meets. This is just 0.150 behind Illinois’ average. Both teams have scored above 196 recently, so the focus lies in the details.

“Half a tenth can do a lot to the score,” said Erin Buchanan, this week’s Big Ten Freshman of the Week. “As Jay was just telling us, it can get us a whole point if we each do a little improvement on every routine.”

The next step isn’t just limited to the team’s performance, though. Senior Elizabeth McNabb likes the team’s consistency with energy, but there’s also work to be done with the mental aspect of the sport.

“We’re just really trying to get those little things that can sometimes be more mental mistakes in the competition, like pressure or you’re nervous,” McNabb said. “It’s more like in competition rather than what we’ve been seeing in practice, so we know we’re physically there. We just need to hold it together mentally and everything.”

The 2-0 start has really lifted the Illini’s spirits, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of their work ethic. They have been able to manage in a way that translates into wanting to do even better.

“Their spirits have been good,” Santos said. “Their attitudes have been great all week. Effort’s been great all week, so I think they’re feeling really good about it. What I see in practice is they’ve been really working on trying to make that next step. It’s what we’re going to need if we’re going to win in Minnesota.”

Ashley can be reached at [email protected] and @wijangco12.