Illini gymnastics ready for National Championship run

With the cold weather we have had for the last month, it is great news for Illinois sports fans that most winter sports have caught up to the weather and have finally begun their seasons.

One of the winter sports that I am particularly excited to follow (and write about) is the men’s gymnastics team.

As the beat reporter for the team last year, I became fond of the sport that I had so little experience watching before.

From my time covering the team, I can tell you that the men’s gymnastics team is easily one of the most successful teams at the University. The only team I see challenging the gymnasts for the top spot is the men’s golf team, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the country.

The men’s gymnastics team finished No. 4 in the country last year and won the NCAA Championships in 2012. With great success in the past, the team has a chance of being just as competitive this season.

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    In the preseason Coaches Poll, the Illini are ranked No. 5 nationally to start the season and are one of six teams that received votes for the top spot. As of now, it is just speculation as to who is going to be the best team in the country at season’s end. Even once the season starts, it will take a while to get past the early scrimmages and easy opponents to realize actually how good this team is.

    With that said, I think the Illini will have a good chance on improving their rank throughout the season. 

    The team return its top-three contributors from last season: senior Jordan Valdez, junior C.J. Maestas and sophomore Chandler Eggleston.

    Valdez, known as a high bar specialist, came away with the high bar national title last season.

    Last year, Valdez was also working on expanding his expertise onto other events and that will be one of the keys for the Illini this year. 

    Eggleston, who was a freshman last season, took home the Big Ten floor title and was competitive all around. It is likely he will once again be a huge factor in how far the Illini go.

    Maestas also had an excellent season last year and helped the team advance deep into the postseason. He finished as the NCAA runner-up on still rings and will look to improve on that performance this year. Maestas, who has suffered tough injuries in the past and has been a little bit inconsistent at times, could still be the team’s best gymnast. With continuous improvement off last season’s finish, Maestas could cement his name as one of the best gymnasts in the country.

    After talking specifically about how pivotal these three were to the team’s performance last year, I want to emphasize how consistent the team is all around and how that will be a huge strength this upcoming season.

    Senior Mike Wilner and junior Fred Hartville will also be big for the Illini this year and will use their experience to guide the five new freshmen on the team.

    You might think of gymnastics as only an Olympic sport or not nearly as fun to watch as Illini basketball, but I implore all of you as sports fans to keep an eye out for the men’s gymnastics team this year, as it embarks on its mission to once again bring home the national championship.

    Kieran is a sophomore in Business. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @KHampl95.