Illinois women’s gymnastics tops Iowa in road win

A handful of high individual scores propelled the Illinois women’s gymnastics team to a strong 196.975-196.375 win over Iowa on Saturday at the Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

“We took that next step that we’ve kind of been looking to take,” head coach Kim Landrus said. “We came in and, not only did they go 49 on every single event, but — the word for (Saturday) was ‘momentum.’ And I really think that from the beginning to the very end of the competition, we kept that momentum up and just kept building on our performances.”

The score was close throughout the meet, but Illinois led the whole way to end with a new season-high total. It was the Illini’s strong performance on the balance beam, matched up with the Hawkeyes’ finish on floor that solidified the victory.

Iowa finished with a meet-low 48.975 on floor. Meanwhile, Illinois recovered from last weekend’s two beam falls by hitting all six routines on the event, earning it a season-high 49.300.

Sophomore Mary Jane Horth and senior Sunny Kato led the beam lineup, each scoring a 9.900. Senior Jordan Naleway led off on the event as opposed to junior Giana O’Connor, who had been struggling in that position.

“As a team, we decided it would be better if someone else led off and I went later in the lineup,” O’Connor said. “Obviously, it worked very well (Saturday), and we’re very excited about how it went.”

Horth and Kato also led the bars lineup to give the Illini a 49.325. Horth earned another 9.975, while Kato scored a 9.925, both of which tied the respective gymnast’s career-high. Those scores also helped bars remain the lone event this season that Illinois has scored at least a 49 on in every meet.

Illinois’ prosperity continued on vault and floor, where the Illini scored a season-high on both events, with O’Connor earning near-perfect scores on each.

On vault, the final score Illinois counted was O’Connor’s 9.950. The score tied Iowa’s 49.175 on bars to give Illinois the 98.500-98.375 lead halfway through the competition.

From there, the Illini moved on to floor, where they had to count one score below a 9.8. But O’Connor’s floor routine was scored a 9.925, giving Illinois a 49.175 on the event before finishing off on beam.

Those scores gave O’Connor the floor and vault titles, but it also helped her bring home the all-around title. She scored a career-high 39.600 in the all-around, which trails only Alina Weinstein’s program-best 39.625.

With all of these high scores, this win has given the Illini more confidence moving forward with the season, but that’s not enough for them. They still want to hit a 197.

“It really just shows us how much the little things and all those quarter tenths and half tenths count,” Horth said of the win. “So it’s definitely a confidence booster. We know we can go out and hit that 197 next time.”

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