Women’s gymnasts win decisive season opener

Only one week separated the Illinois women’s gymnastics team’s season opener and home opener, but that didn’t stop the gymnasts from making significant gains in their 196.175-192.775, home-opening win over Rutgers.

“They touched well, and went out and competed with confidence,” head coach Kim Landrus said in a press release. “I was happy with the mental toughness they displayed.”

On Saturday night, then-No. 9 Illinois began its first-ever meet against new conference foe Rutgers on a strong note. Its first event was vault, and junior Giana O’Connor led the Illini’s 49 team total on the apparatus with a career-high 9.875. O’Connor’s score was also enough for her to grab her second-straight vault title of the season.

The 49 was the first one of the season on vault for the Illini, they just missed it by 0.325 last weekend at Central Michigan. In fact, the Illini only scored a 49 or higher on the uneven bars against Central Michigan, but they improved upon that by scoring at least a 49 on three events Saturday.

Illinois’ 49.250 on bars was the highest event score of the meet, and it was highlighted by senior Sunny Kato. She anchored the event and scored a 9.925 to take the bars title. Sophomore Mary Jane Horth earned a 9.900 to take second place. Horth was also the only other gymnast in any apparatus to score a 9.9 or higher.

On floor, Illinois posted a 49.050. The Illini’s all-around gymnasts, O’Connor and sophomores Erin Buchanan and Horth, took the top three scores on the event, respectively, for the entire competition. O’Connor earned her first floor title of the season by earning a 9.875. Buchanan followed suit with a 9.825, and Horth added a 9.800 on the event. All three scores were new season highs for the gymnasts.

Illinois’ struggles came on the balance beam, as only two gymnasts scored a 9.800 or higher. This led to a team-total of 48.875, but it was an improvement over the 48.775 from the prior week. It was also higher than all of Rutgers’ event scores, with the exception of its beam score.

The difficulties on beam weren’t enough to deter Horth, though. Her 9.725 on beam may have been her lowest individual score that night, but it still helped her win her first all-around title — in just her second collegiate meet as an all-around competitor.

“(Horth) has worked so hard this season to compete in the all-around,” Landrus said. “With her upgraded bar routine and the addition of floor, she is truly one to watch. She has the drive and `strive for perfection’ attitude that will make her that much better every time out and that showed (Saturday).”

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