The ‘Victory Plank’ will not be coming to East Lansing for a fourth straight year.
The Spartans fell to the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois in their home opener Friday night. With a strong start from the Spartans and close competition throughout the night, the meet came down to the wire. In the end, the Illini edged the Spartans by a final score of 195.352 – 194.150.
In 2010, the ‘Victory Plank’, a traveling rivalry trophy, was established for the winner of this matchup. The Fighting Illini came into Friday’s meet ranked No. 16 in the country and won the trophy four consecutive times against the Spartans.
“The ‘Victory Plank’ is special because it’s a rivalry trophy and we don’t have it with any other school,” Illinois head coach Kim Landrus said.
“It’s something that I really embrace and it is a great thing to get started. It always puts a little bit more fun into the competition.”
Spartan junior Alina Cartwright picked up where she left off last season by setting an all-around career-high score of 39.275. As a team, the Spartan’s performed better than most expected versus the No. 16 Illini.
“I just need to make sure I stay confident and do the routines that I’ve been practicing,” Cartwright said.
“I also need to be confident for my team so they know they can depend on me.”
Freshman Elena Lagoski (who tied for first on the floor) and sophomores Lisa Burt and Brittany Holmes were also key performers for the Spartans.
Senior Amber See led the Illini. She posted her third-highest career score in the all-around, which earned her second place behind Cartwright. The Illini also had strong performances from Liz McNabb, who tied for first on the beam, Sunny Kato, and Sarah Fiedler.
Coach Klages and Illinois coach Kim Landrus have high expectations for their girls to maintain this high level of performance throughout the season. The Spartans were the 37th ranked team at the end of last season, which means they just barely missed going to the NCAA Regional Tournament as 36 teams are invited.
Despite taking another loss from the Illini, the Spartan gymnastics team came out of the match with a positive attitude.
“I’m really proud of the team tonight. Illinois was ranked 16th in the country and we gave them a scare,” Klages said.
“We were unrankend and it was a great way to start the season. We were fighting, we just didn’t quite get the win.”
Jalen Walker is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photos: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports