Mixed Pairs exhibition to kick off season

By Erin Foley

The Illinois men’s gymnastics team opens its season tonight at 7 when it competes in the annual Mixed Pairs exhibition meet at Huff Hall. With a balanced attack of expereince – four seniors and seven sophomores – the team has high hopes for a National Championship run come April.

The Mixed Pairs format pits gymnasts from both the men’s and women’s teams together battling other combined pairs. Descibed as a fan-friendly favorite, senior Justin Spring said it will allow the audience to see a different side of collegiate gymnastics.

“We’re going to have celebrity judges from your favorite athletes, so it’s going to be really light-hearted, not a strict meet,” Spring said. “You’ll see some crazy stuff, not typical stuff you would see in an actual competition.”

Last year, senior Ben Newman and then-sophomore Cara Pomeroy finished first with a combined score of 29.88. The top three scores of the four-event meet determined the winning pair.

Although the Illini graduated three letterwinners, the void will look to be filled by four highly-touted freshmen. Competing for the first time this season will be Chris Lung, Kyle Padera, Nick Stango and Tyler Williamson.

“For the freshmen, this will be their first collegiate meet, so I’m sure they will be a little nervous,” said head coach Yoshi Hayasaki, who is entering his 30th season at Illinois. “It will be their first time competing for the U of I public.”

Without a junior class, Spring said the four seniors are “technically the only upperclassmen.”

“We take a lot of leadership responsibility there for that, because half the team is sophomores,” he said. “You have a number of guys who have done some traveling, but you have more and more guys – freshmen, who haven’t done any. Everyone’s on the same page regardless.”

Since it will be the seniors’ last Mixed Pairs competition, they are especially looking forward to “cutting lose,” Spring said.

“As seniors, Adam (Pummer) and I have a little thing up our belt hopefully, if the coaches will let us pull some crazy stuff out of our bag,” Spring said.

Ranked No. 2 in the GymInfo national preseason poll, Pummer said while the team learns not to worry too much about what rankings are at the beginning of the season, he said it “definitely feels good to get a little respect.”

The men will begin their regular season in Chicago with the Windy City Invite on Jan. 14.