Twenty-nine years ago this weekend — March 23-24, 1990 — the Illini women's gymnastics team won the Big Ten team championship, something it had never achieved before nor has accomplished since.
Entering the season, coach Bev Mackes said that her squad, comprised solely of freshmen, sophomores and juniors, would need to work together, show gradual progress and peak at the right time. She also faced the question of whether or not two of her best athletes would rebound from injuries. Two weeks before the 1989 Big Ten meet, reigning conference all-around champ and co-Gymnast of the Year Heather Singalewitch had blown out her knee, while classmate Denise Lamborn spent the entire '88-89 season in a back brace.
As the '89-90 campaign progressed, both athletes recuperated successfully and so Mackes' Illini entered the Big Ten meet at Ann Arbor as the favorite to win it all.
On opening night, Illinois responded perfectly in the team competition, posting a UI and Big Ten record score of 188.750 to edge runner-up Michigan State by one and a quarter points. Only four points separated the first- and last-place teams.
The following evening, the Illini continued their individual mastery. Lamborn won the vault with a 9.8 score, Peggy Pullman and Laura Knutson tied for the balance beam title at 9.65, and Singalewitch tied with two other floor exercise competitors to share that championship. All four women won All-Big Ten honors while Mackes was singled out as the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Said Illini co-captain Susan Adams afterward: "We worked so hard all year and we finally got what we wanted. We couldn't have done it if we weren't together as a team."
Dr. Beverly Mackes Stevens is now retired from Illinois State University. Her husband, Michael, directed the master's program in counseling psychology at ISU.
Today: Ayo Shogbonyo, football (21)
Monday: Melissa Parker, basketball
Tuesday: Lou Campos, football (53)
Wednesday: Leigh Farina, softball (23)
Thursday: Cristy Chapman, volleyball
Friday: Mary Eggers Tendler, volleyball
Saturday: Mikel Leshoure, football (29)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is http://www.SportsLLL.com.