Illinois women’s gymnastics has historic season

The Illinois women’s gymnastics team defined its season as “limitless” prior to its start, and that attitude paved the way to a year filled with breaking records and making history.

Illinois opened its season with its highest season-opener score of a 195.325 in a victory over Michigan State on Jan. 10. The Illini then placed first in their home-opening tri-meet eight days later, scoring 196.175.

The gymnasts faced their first loss of the season in a 196.225-195.350 loss to Big Ten rival Minnesota. Illinois bounced back, though, by defeating Iowa in the Illini’s annual Pink Meet.

From there, the Illini lost two straight meets to Big Ten teams Michigan and Penn State, which were attainable wins. Both losses were by slim margins.

Illinois bounced back with a first-place finish at the State of Illinois Classic quad meet. The win also featured the highest team vault total in program history with a 49.425. The event was highlighted by Amber See’s perfect 10, which made her the third Illini gymnast to achieve such a feat. The Classic was also the first meet of the Illini’s lone doubleheader weekend.

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To complete the weekend, the gymnasts were back at Huff Hall to take on Ohio State and Central Michigan in a tri-meet. The Illini went undefeated for the weekend, as they took first place. The winning streak ended there, though, as they fell to No. 2 Oklahoma the following weekend.

Following the loss, Illinois competed in its final home meet of the season with a decisive 197.100-194.450 win over Lindenwood. It was the program’s highest score ever, and marked the first time in history the Illini scored a 197.

The regular season came to a close with the Big Ten Quad Meet. Illinois was up against Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State for a spot in the evening session of Big Ten Championships. By finishing second, the Illini qualified for the evening session for the first time.

At the conference championship, Illinois placed fourth of eighth teams. This finish was enough for the gymnasts to earn a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Minneapolis Regional, another first for the Illini. Illinois then placed second at the regionals, guaranteeing a spot at nationals.

With the automatic bid to the NCAA Championships, Illinois was making its first back-to-back trip to NCAA Championships. The highest the gymnasts have ever placed there was 11th of 12 teams, so they strived to continue their record-breaking ways by becoming the first Illinois team to finish in the top 10; however, the Illini fell short and ended their season with another 11th-place finish.

“I’m just so proud of this team to, once again, tie the highest finish in program history,” head coach Kim Landrus said. “It says a lot about the year they had. Everybody just came together for entire season and continued building, and we finished it off strong.”

With this past season, Illinois proved it has what it takes to compete with the best. The program will be losing seniors Sarah Fiedler, who was named the team’s Most Valuable Player, Elizabeth McNabb and See, but the future still looks bright.

Junior Sunny Kato was a first-team all Big-Ten selection along with See. She also led the team with 11 titles, which earned her the award of Most Outstanding Gymnast. Most Improved Gymnast honors went to junior Kelsi Eberly, as she competed in every meet for the first time in her career and hit her floor routine for all of them.

Freshmen Erin Buchanan, a second-team all-Big-Ten selection, Mary Jane Horth and Emily Lennon all finished their season on a strong note.

“Getting the experience in is kind of vital for what we want to do,” Buchanan said.” I also feel like it gives us motivation and drive to keep doing it, especially after breaking so many records this year. I think just going there was so fun, and it’s just such a great atmosphere to be in. It definitely leaves you wanting more.”

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