A weekly chat with Tony Bleill

This week''s guest: gymnast Kara Kapernekas.

Named the Illini''s most valuable gymnast a year ago, Kapernekas enters her senior season this weekend aiming to finish with a flourish. A year ago, the Westchester native won nine event titles, including five on balance beam, and tied her own school record in floor exercise with a 9.95 against Ball State.

Q: You''ve had a couple of 9.95s in your career at Illinois. What is the feeling of getting a 10? Have you had a 10 at other levels?

A: No, but in order to get a 9.95 you have to get a 10 from at least one judge, and they average it out to a 9.95. Having one judge give you a 10 is pretty exciting. We had one of the freshmen get a 10 last year on bars (Cara Pomeroy), and I felt like we were just as excited as she was. You train to be perfect, and when you actually achieve it, it''s kind of overwhelming.

Q: You train in the same space (Kenney Gym) with the Illinois men''s team. Because of that, do you think the teams have a unique relationship that other teams on campus don''t quite have?

A: Yeah, definitely. We can say anything to them. It''s a brother-sister relationship a lot of us have. They''re not afraid to tell us things, that''s for sure. (Laughs.) It''s fun. We hang out all the time.

Q: Did you get a special thrill out of seeing them accomplish what they did last season?

A: Definitely. We were at regionals the weekend they had nationals, and originally the weekends were switched where we were going to be in town for nationals. We were kind of upset when they switched it because we wanted to watch them all compete. A lot of the girls talked to the guys on the phone, so we heard when they were Big Ten champs, and we all yelled. We''re really a close-knit team. We consider the gymnastics teams (to be) one team.

Q: Your training situation: You''re on the upper level of an older building, and it''s cramped. Do you feel Illinois needs a new gymnastics facility that''s in a different location?

A: The location is OK, but I definitely think we need a new facility. It''s just easier to learn skills when you have cushier mats and a lot of room. There''s a lot more equipment we could have if we had a bigger gym. It''s kind of an ongoing struggle as to who gets the floor, the guys or the girls. It makes it interesting at practice, I guess.

Q: Have you seen other training facilities within the Big Ten?

A: I''ve been to Penn State; they have a nice facility. Ohio State just got a new facility last year, I think. Theirs is really big. I think Michigan has a separate gym for the guys and the girls. I would like to keep it together. The guys make it interesting with all the yelling and stuff that they do. The girls, we''re not as vocal.

Q: Pro-Chief or anti-Chief?

A: Pro-Chief.

Q: Your favorite fast-food restaurant?

A: That''s tough. Is Za''s considered fast food?

Q: Reality TV: Can''t live with it or can''t live without it?

A: Can''t live without it.

Q: What do you watch?

A: Real World. Laguna Beach. Unfortunately.

Q: What''s in your CD player or on your iPod these days?

A: Usually dance music.

Q: How do you do the scouting for music for your routine?

A: I''m a big movie watcher. Last year, I had music from "The Matrix." Some action movies have upbeat dance music.

Q: Can you tell right away that a piece of music would be good for a routine?

A: Yeah. I''m kind of weird, though. I have an ear for that. A lot of girls were looking for floor music this summer, and I was like, "Oh, Matchstick Men has good music in ''Once Upon a Time in Mexico.'' " But everyone knows I''m a crazy movie buff.

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