Potential Lineups: Illinois

By Caroline Medley


Today we begin our Big 10 series with the Illinois Fighting Illini! After losing a heavy-hitting class in Heather Foley, Sunny Kato and Giana O’Connor, this may be another rebuilding year for the team. However, they should pick up some steam with the return of Mary Jane Horth, who was injured for most of last season, and the addition of four new freshmen.

On vault, the Illini lose Foley and O’Connor’s Yurchenko fulls, but just as they lose no 10.0 start values, they don’t gain any either. Horth, Erin Buchanan, Lizzy LeDuc and Sarah Lyons will all return their fulls. Haylee Roe should also come back with a Yurchenko full, as she was able to upgrade from just a layout during the season last year. Freshmen Rae Balthazor, Lindsay Dwyer and Brittany Jones are all expected to bring fulls to the table, with Balthazor having the best landings of the three. One or more of them may be able to sneak into the lineup with only five veterans returning vaults. The key to scoring well with a lineup of these 9.95 start values will be execution. The focus should be on solid blocks to get better distance and height, tight form in the air and landing as cleanly as possible.

Bars will see the departure of both O’Connor and Kato, who were some of the top scorers for Illinois last season. With them gone, the team will need some new leaders to step up and take control of their

bar routines. Buchanan, Horth, LeDuc, Lyons, Rachael Donovan, Jordyn Givens and Bridget Hodan all contributed to the lineup at some point last season, giving the Illini lots of options. Only Horth and Lyons escaped the season without a fall, so having Horth back to full strength this season will definitely be an asset to Illinois. Consistency will be key to the success of the bars lineup, and freshman Dwyer should be

able to help with that. Over all her major competitions in the last two years, she’s hit all but two of her bar routines. Newcomer Karen Howell should also be able to contribute, with a difficult piked Jaeger and pak salto in her routine.

All three departing seniors contributed on and off on beam, so the Illini will have some significant ground to make up to be ready for this season. Buchanan, Hodan, Horth, LeDuc, Roe and Brielle

Nguyen will all return from the 2016 lineup. But that doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room. Howell could potentially join the beam team, with a back handspring layout stepout series and a switch leap-switch half-split jump connection. Fielding six routines out of only seven in the arsenal, though, might feel a little dangerous for coach Kim Landrus. She may work with some gymnasts who didn’t compete beam last season

in hopes that they’ll be solid enough to step into the lineup later in the season or if someone gets injured.

The loss of Foley and O’Connor on floor will definitely affect Illinois, but luckily, it will retain its one E pass from last season in Hodan’s front double twist. Working up the difficulty could be important for the Illini, but cleanliness should be first and foremost. Landings across the board last season were a bit messy, with only three of eight gymnasts in lineups last year breaking 9.9. Returning from the floor lineup will be the same six from beam — Buchanan, Hodan, Horth, LeDuc, Nguyen and Roe. Freshmen Balthazor, Dwyer and Howell could all also potentially contribute, each bringing solid routines that capitalize on stronger execution over difficulty. If Illinois can implement that philosophy into all its routines, it may be able to improve on its 25th place finish last year.

In the all around, expect to see Horth back as long as she stays healthy. She will likely take O’Connor’s place as the team leader, as one of their strongest and most seasoned competitors. Buchanan is also a strong contender, as she competed all around many times in Horth’s absence last year. And LeDuc is another likely option, having competed all four in 11 meets during her freshman campaign. Most other gymnasts will likely only contribute on one or two events, with Roe potentially being the exception, as she competed vault, beam and floor last year. If the Illinois team can stay healthy and focus on its execution, they should set themselves up well for success.

Come back tomorrow as we tackle the Iowa Hawkeyes! If you’re interested in more on potential lineups, you can visit our page here or read our three previous series here. Or, if we haven’t covered your favorite team yet, leave us a comment or shoot us a Tweet to tell us who you’d like to see covered!

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