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The Daily Illini

Fiedler becomes regional beam champion as her memorable career nears its end


Editor’s note: The Daily Illini sports desk sits down Sunday nights and decides which Illinois athlete or coach is our Illini of the Week. Athletes and coaches are evaluated by individual performance and contribution to team success.

The Illinois women’s gymnastics team had been in this position before. At the Morgantown (W. Va.) Regional last season, the Illini had a slight lead over Nebraska coming into the last rotation. At this year’s Big Ten Championships, Illinois was neck and neck with Minnesota, trying to place in the top-three heading into the final rotation.

On Saturday, the Illini ended the Minneapolis Regional on the balance beam just as they had in Morgantown. the year before, when they qualified for nationals. Illinois was on pace to take second place at Saturday’s meet, therefore qualifying for nationals again, but Minnesota was only four-tenths behind. With one rotation to go, it was still anyone’s spot to take.

Senior Sarah Fiedler was the second-to-last Illini on beam, and the score she would earn would play a large role in not only the team’s future but in her own future as a gymnast. Despite the pressure, she knew her task remained the same as it had all season long: hit the routine.

Fiedler ended up performing a near-flawless routine and earned a 9.900 on the event. This tied three other gymnasts at the meet and set up a four-way tie for the beam title. What made this even more special for Fiedler, though, was her score was accompanied by Illinois’ bid to nationals.

“It was so special, especially with the position we were in,” head coach Kim Landrus said of Fiedler’s beam performance. “She was the fifth competitor, and for her to go up and rock the routine the way she did was just awesome. She’s a true competitor.”

That performance is a big reason why her season isn’t ending just yet, but Fiedler couldn’t have done it without her teammates. She felt more relaxed on beam than she had throughout the meet but wasn’t quite sure why.

“I think that was just because we had such a solid meet up to that point,” Fiedler said. “I just know I can depend on the others in the beam lineup, and people had been hitting routines before me. I think that just gave me a little more confidence to hit my own routine.”

Fiedler now has a second career beam title. It was also her first beam title of the season, although she’s earned other event titles. Fiedler captured two uneven bars titles against Iowa and Minnesota. She even earned her first ever all-around title against Lindenwood on March 8, which was also senior day.

It still hasn’t hit Fiedler that her gymnastics career is nearing an end, but she knew, coming into the season, what kind of role she wanted to have when the time would come.

“When I was a freshman, I always looked up to my seniors, specifically (Melissa) Fernandez, Allison Buckley, and they were truly my role models,” Fiedler said. “I wanted to be able to fill those shoes. I wanted the freshmen to be able to view me like I viewed them.”

She’s accomplished this feat, because she knows this year’s freshmen can come to her for help without any hesitations.

“Whenever I do see them struggling, whether it be inside the gym at practice or with school, I’m able to talk to them and help them out,” Fiedler said. “Obviously I’ve been through all of it, so I help them figure out what’s going to work best for them or what worked best for me.”

Freshman Mary Jane Horth concurred, saying: “She is such a steadfast leader on our team. She always has a consistent attitude day in and day out. It’s been really beneficial to us freshmen to look up to her and have her as an example and role model, as a senior gymnast just to look up to because she’s so strong and so solid.”

Fiedler’s role model status isn’t just limited to the freshmen, though. In fact, she has been able to make an impact on fellow senior Elizabeth McNabb, who calls Fiedler her best friend on the team.

“Even though we are the same year, it’s really nice to be able to look up to her as a beam worker and just a worker in general in the gym,” McNabb said. “She’s a really hard worker, and it’s really great to see that show through her gymnastics. And she’s very detail-oriented and gets upset if she makes that one mistake because she just wants to get it right every single time.”

Gymnastics will soon be a thing of the past for Fiedler, but it’s given her more than just personal achievements.

“It brought me here to U of I, and I’ve met so many great people and made so many friends through the sport,” Fiedler said. “It’s just given me so many opportunities.”

Ashley can be reached at wijangc2@dailyillini.com and @wijangco12.

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