Illinois women’s gymnastics takes fourth place at Big Ten championships

No matter what the outcome would end up being, the Illinois women’s gymnastics team was making history just by being in the evening session of the Big Ten championships.

It was the first time the program ever made it into the evening session, and the Illini had plenty of momentum heading into Saturday’s meet.

But it was the little details that prevented the Illini from placing. They finished behind champion Michigan, runner-up Nebraska and third-place Minnesota. This gave them fourth out of eight teams after scoring a 196.625 at Rec Hall in State College, Pa.

“Big Tens is always a really exciting competition, and there’s so many quality teams in the Big Ten,” head coach Kim Landrus said. “And so, I think that walking away in the top half of the conference says a lot about the strength of our team.

“However, we want more. We are always hungry, and we know that our score always comes down to the little details … We just gave away too many tenths.”

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    Senior Sarah Fiedler identified steps on landings and missed handstands as some of the skills that needed work.

    The improvements were most necessary in the Illini’s first three events of the night. They began on vault and accumulated three scores above a 9.800. Freshman Erin Buchanan’s 9.875 led the way for Illinois to achieve a 49.100 on the event.

    Senior Amber See earned a season-low 9.225 on vault. But her teammates’ high scores worked in the Illini’s favor, as See’s score didn’t count against them.

    From there, Illinois improved on the uneven bars. Each of the five individual scores that counted toward the team score was a 9.800 or higher. This gave the Illini a 49.225 score on the apparatus.

    Balance beam was up next, but it didn’t fare as well for the Illini as the first two events had. Sophomore Giana O’Connor was in the lead-off position for beam, but she took a fall early in her routine. She ended up earning a 9.300, but the following gymnasts were able to pick up the scores after the fall.

    See followed O’Connor with a 9.775. Then, the four gymnasts remaining in the lineup each received a 9.800. While Illinois had performed well enough to drop O’Connor’s score, it wasn’t enough to achieve an event total of 49 or above. Rather, the Illini earned their first and only event total under 49, a 48.975.

    Although beam hadn’t gone the way they planned, the Illini turned it around on the floor exercise. Illinois ended the night with a 49.325 on the event, with the lowest individual score being a 9.825.

    “Just before we started floor, we were telling each other, ‘This meet isn’t over yet. We still have one more event,'” Fiedler said. “Honestly, it’s the most energetic and fun event to compete, as far as cheering and being able to show off your routines. And so we ended up having positive thoughts going into floor. I think that really showed in our routines and scores.”

    Finishing strong is a point Landrus really likes to emphasize with her team, and that message was embraced Saturday. The fourth-place finish, though, is just going to push the Illini to improve even more.

    “It gives us a lot of motivation,” O’Connor said. “We know that with these little details and these few little mistakes that we had, we could’ve beat Minnesota. We could have even been in second or first place if we didn’t have these little mistakes, so it’s motivational for us. We’re going to go in the gym and work and work on these things, so we can beat whoever we are with in Regionals and hopefully make it to Nationals.”

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