When Illinois faced Big Ten foe Michigan this past February, the Illini came up just short — 0.226 points to be exact — of defeating the Wolverines and ending a 29-year losing streak against its conference rival.
The streak stands at 43 meets, including head-to-head meets, Big Ten Championships, Regionals and Nationals. Overall, the No. 11 Illini are 9-51-1 against the Wolverines, with their last dual-meet victory coming on Jan.
“All of us kind of have memories from each year,” senior Kelsi Eberly said. “I know mine from freshman year; we had a couple falls on beam, and we could’ve beat them then. And then last year, we probably could’ve found some little details. So I think that every year it definitely reminds you, so I think it’s like our rebuttal and our second chance to do that.”
Illinois will have a chance to break No. 4 Michigan’s streak Sunday at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but the history between the two programs isn’t changing Illinois’ preparations.
— Kelsi Eberly
“We had a meeting on Monday, and we talked about [how] just because it is a meet against Michigan and because we do have a lot of history with them doesn’t mean that we should train any differently,” sophomore Sarah Lyons said. “We need to train smarter. We need to train harder. But it’s just like another meet, and we can still get a really great score that’s going to help our ranking.”
Illinois’s progress has shown so far this season, with wins coming in its first two meets. The opener, at Central Michigan, was a 195.175-193.475 victory. Then, the Illini increased their score in a 196.175-192.775 home-opening victory against Rutgers.
Illinois dropped two spots in the GymInfo rankings despite the scoring improvements. Lyons is optimistic about her team’s work because it has built on prior performances, but there are still improvements to be made, whether that be sticking more dismounts or improving leaps on floor.
“For each girl, it helps to find that half tenth, because those half tenths add up,” Eberly said. “Finding that one cast [handstand], or, like I said, the sticks. Just finding those details because we know it does come down to the end.”
Those details made a difference in Illinois’ loss to Michigan last season. It’s those details that allowed the Illini to build on their score to start this season, so it’s those same details that will determine Sunday’s outcome.
“If we break the streak and make history, I think it says a lot about our team and about how we are a team that nobody really expects to see coming,” Lyons said. “But we’re a strong team, and we deserve to be up in the top spots.”
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