The introduction of the new NCAA Gymnastics postseason format raises the stakes for the teams ranked 28th through 36th in the regular season. On Thursday, the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Central Michigan Chippewas faced off in Ann Arbor, Michigan in an attempt to get through to the regionals round tomorrow. With the two teams separated by just seven hundredths of a point in their NQS, this was bound to be a tight meet. Ultimately, the Fighting Illini emerged victorious, scoring a 195.325 to CMU’s 195.275.

Illinois started on vault, traditionally their weakest event. They scored a 48.675, trailing by five hundredths after the first rotation. Without any 10.0 start values on vault, the Fighting Illini need to rely on big, clean vaults with stuck landings. They had a few landing errors today, allowing the Chippewas to take the lead after the first rotation with a 48.725. On the uneven bars, the Chippewas hit six routines but had some bent legs and hops on landings, keeping them from gaining a bigger lead. Aside from some loose form, Central Michigan showed nice release combinations, difficult dismounts, and precise handstands.

Moving to vault, CMU anchored with Denelle Pedrick’s huge Yurchenko double full to earn a rotation total of 48.725. The rest of the lineup performed clean Yurchenko fulls with just some small hops on landings. On the uneven bars, Illinois showed precise handstands, some stuck dismounts, and nice lines to score a 48.925, putting them in the lead. Karen Howell and Mary Jane Otto posted the highest scores for the Fighting Illini with a pair of 9.850s.

Shaylah Scott performs on the floor exercise for the Illinois Fighting Illini against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional play-in meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan/Illinois Athletics

Illinois dealt with a slight equipment malfunction on the balance beam, still performing well to score a 48.975. Scoring was very tight at this meet, with two Illinois gymnasts scoring a 9.750 and two scoring a 9.775. Otto again posted the highest score for Illinois on the event with a 9.850. The Fighting Illini were able to stay in the lead with a very steady performance on beam. The Chippewas fell a bit behind on floor, where the highest score was Abbie Rose Zoeller’s 9.825. Their rotation total was a 48.900 for six hit routines, though low landings kept the scores a bit lower than usual. Still, Central Michigan’s consistency kept them in contention to win the meet.

CMU delivered on beam, scoring a 48.925, with Skyler Memmel anchoring the lineup to score a 9.875, the highest score of the meet. After a fall from Gianna Plaska in the leadoff position, the team performed under pressure and hit the next five routines cleanly, sticking dismounts and keeping the rhythm going. It was not enough to catch Illinois, which scored a 48.750 on the floor exercise. Shaylah Scott scored a 9.800 in the leadoff position, starting Illinois off strong. With difficult tumbling and beautiful leap connections, the Fighting Illini won the meet by just five hundredths of a point.

Illinois will advance to day two of the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional and will hope to earn a spot in the super regional on Saturday. They will be competing in the second session of the regional round against the UCLA Bruins, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and the West Virginia Mountaineers.

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