Gymnastics seniors take on spotlight: No. 2 Illini finish season against No. 13

By Mike Czapar

This Saturday, students will have their final opportunity to catch the No. 2 Illinois men’s gymnastics team in action. The squad that has national championship hopes will close out its regular season against No. 13 Illinois-Chicago at Huff Hall this weekend.

The Illini finished their conference season undefeated last week against Iowa and are looking to cap off the season with a win before heading to the Big Ten championships March 25-26 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Junior Adam Pummer said things are falling into place for the Illini as the postseason looms in the distance.

“We’re definitely on track,” Pummer said. “Before last weekend, we weren’t really too confident about our performances, but last weekend we really stepped up our hitting percentage, and right now we just need to continue to hit our routines and stay on track heading into Big Tens.”

In addition to closing out the Big Ten season strong, the Illini chalked up another individual honor this week, as freshman Tyler Yamauchi was named Big Ten Co-Gymnast of the Week. Yamauchi became the second Illinois member to earn conference honors this season, after setting another school record on the rings with a 9.800.

In the previous meeting between Illinois and UIC, the Illini defeated the Flames as well as five other teams at the Windy City Invitational in mid-December.

Assistant coach Jon Valdez said although UIC is not a powerhouse like many of Illinois’ other opponents, both teams have improved since the previous meeting.

“UIC has been getting better with every meet this season,” Valdez said. “They’re not quite in the top five, but they have a lot of strong individual performers.”

Illinois will benefit from the complete return of junior Justin Spring, who will be competing for the Illini in the all-around competition for the first time this season.

Spring said he is glad to finally be back, but is a little nervous.

“I’m the most nervous about floor and pommel horse,” Spring said. “Floor is a long set and I just started tumbling again last week, so we’ll see how it goes.”

At the conclusion of Saturday’s competition, spectators will honor the team’s four seniors, Nick Hand, Matt Michalek, Ben Newman and Peter Schostcuk, in what will be their final appearance at Huff Hall as athletes.

Newman said the general sentiment of the senior class is a combination of excitement for the postseason and sadness for the final home meet.

“I’m feeling a lot of different emotions going into this last meet at home,” Newman said. “I’m kind of excited and kind of sad at the same time. It’s the last time I’ll compete at home as an Illini.”