Recruiting Breakdown: Fighting Illini Add Six New Faces For 2018

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Illinois is coming off a season where the Fighting Illini finished fourth at the Champaign regional. The squad had a good meet on both uneven bars and balance beam, but couldn't break the 9.850 mark on either floor or vault. Illinois will have a new face at the helm with Nadalie Walsh taking over for Kim Landrus. Former U.S. elite and NCAA star Ashley Priess-Johnston was hired this summer as an assistant. Lizzy Leduc had a stellar sophomore season and finished the season ranked in the top-25 on both beam and floor.

Outgoing: Erin Buchanan, Mary Jane Horth, Sarah Lyons

The Fighting Illini lose a total of eight routines--three from Buchanan (vault, uneven bars and floor exercise), three from Horth (vault, uneven bars and balance beam) and two from Lyons (vault and uneven bars). Buchanan scored better than a 9.800 nine times on floor exercise and was a strong contributor throughout the season. Lyons scored a 9.775 or better on all 13 uneven bars routines. Horth posted a 9.800 or better in 11 of 13 uneven bars routines, which included a season-best 9.950 on March 11 at the Big Five competition.

Incoming: Nicole Biondi, Grace Gough, Kylie Noonan, Rachel Borden, Kasey Meeks, Tessa Phillips

Nicole Biondi

Townsend, Massachusetts
Trains at 10.0 Academy of Gymnastics

Biondi was a four-time JO national championship qualifier. She was the 2016 JO national champion on uneven bars where she also finished fifth in the all-around and on both vault and floor exercise. She was the 2017 Massachusetts state champion in the all-around and on vault, balance beam and floor exercise. She finished sixth on uneven bars. Biondi swept the Region 6 championship titles when she won the all-around and all four event titles in 2016. She was the Massachusetts state champion on vault and floor and picked up silver in the all-around at the 2016 state championships.

Video courtesy of USA Gymnastics

Impact event(s): All-around

Grace Gough

Indianapolis, Indiana
Trains at Jaycie Phelps Athletics Center

Gough was a two-time JO national championship qualifier. She tied for 16th on vault and floor in 2016 and on uneven bars in 2014. She earned bronze in the all-around and on bars and floor at the 2016 Region 5 championships. She finished seventh in the all-around, picked up fifth on vault and took bronze on floor at regionals in 2015. Gough won silver on floor exercise at the 2014 Indiana state championships. She earned fifth in the all-around and on vault while picking up sixth on both bars and beam.

Video courtesy of Region 5 Gymnastics Insider

Impact event(s): Balance beam and floor exercise

Kylie Noonan

Vadnais Heights, Minnesota
Trains at Midwest Gymnastics

Noonan competed at the JO national championships in back-to-back seasons in 2015 and 2016. She was the 2016 JO national champion on balance beam and also earned seventh on floor. She was the Region 4 balance beam champion in 2016 where she grabbed silver on floor and bronze on vault, bars and in the all-around. She finished fourth in the all-around and on balance beam at the Minnesota state championships in 2016. Noonan was the 2014 regional champion on floor exercise.

Video courtesy of USA Gymnastics

Impact event(s): Floor exercise and vault

Rachel Borden

Illinois
Trains at Legacy Elite
Coached by Jiani Wu and Yuejiu Li

Borden has competed at the Region 5 championships in each of the last five seasons. She tied for 16th on uneven bars at the 2017 JO national championships. She earned bronze on balance beam at the 2017 regional championships where she also finished sixth in the all-around and seventh on bars. She was a bronze medalist on bars, floor and in the all-around and the Illinois state champion on balance beam in 2016. She was the Region 5 champion on beam in 2015 and the JO NIT beam champion in 2014. Borden finished fifth in the all-around at the 2014 Illinois state championships in 2014 where she also earned silver on beam and bronze on bars.

Video courtesy of Region 5 Gymnastics Insider

Impact event(s): Balance beam

Kasey Meeks

Shawnee, Kansas
Trains at Pinnacle Gymnastics
Coached by Morgan Kuchynka and Hannah Thomas

Meeks finished eighth on vault at the Region 3 championships in 2017. She was the Kansas state champion in the all-around and on floor and vault in 2017. She finished fourth on both bars and beam. The Kansas native earned silver on floor exercise at the Kansas state championships in 2015 and finished 13th on vault at regionals that same year.

Impact event(s): Vault and floor exercise

Tessa Phillips

Lagrange, Ohio
Trains at Gymnastics World
Coached by Doug Miller, Caroline and Jared Nunn, Joan Ganim and Bob Wood

Phillips tied for seventh on floor exercise at the 2016 JO national championships. She earned silver on floor at the Region 5 championships. She was the 2016 Ohio state champion on floor exercise and in the all-around where she also took silver on beam, fourth on vault and fifth on uneven bars. She was the state champion on balance beam in 2015. Phillips earned fifth in the all-around and seventh on both vault and bars at the state championships in 2015.

Video courtesy of Region 5 Gymnastics Insider

Impact event(s): Floor exercise and balance beam

Recruiting 101: What College Coaches Look For Other Than Gymnastics

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports 2017 Pac-12 Championship

By Kristina Comforte

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