Illini men’s gymnastics looking to rest up heading into Chicago

So far this season, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team’s stated goal has been to obtain and hold onto the No. 1 ranking, a position it’s held twice. But as the Illini enter a lull in the schedule with weaker opposition the next two weeks, their attention will shift.

“It’s always nice to be on top, but ranking right now is just a number,” senior Brian Liscovitz said.

“This week is going to be a little different. We’re going to worry a little bit less about the competition this weekend because we’re focusing on two weeks down the line against Michigan.”

This weekend, when Illinois travels to Chicago for an in-state matchup against UIC, it will clearly hold the upper hand.

The No. 3 Illini come in averaging a team score of 353.000, while the Flames average 336.400, ranking them just 12th out of 18 ranked teams.

Associate head coach Justin Spring will take the opportunity to rest some of his top performers while giving younger members of the team a chance to gain some experience and make an impression. But even with the top two Illini scorers, junior Paul Ruggeri and sophomore Tyler Mizoguchi, resting off of all-around, Spring believes the team’s depth will allow them to maintain a high score.

“We should still have a strong team,” Spring said. “I’m not going to say we’re going to put up season highs, but we’ll still put up a solid team score while still getting the rest we need.”

With several debuts imminent, the Illini could get a glimpse of their future Sunday, and the task of keeping the newcomers relaxed will fall to the more experienced gymnasts.

“Competing for the first time in the season or in your career is a big thing,” Liscovitz said. “To keep those guys focused and under control is part of my job.”

The opportunity to gain experience will also pose difficult decisions for a handful of gymnasts who have the ability to redshirt.

Spring indicated he will have discussions with them to determine the course of action, but he expects they will all want to compete.

The team’s overall sights continue to be set down the road, with the Michigan meet especially holding significance.

The home meet will be one of the last of the season prior to the Big Ten Championships and will provide a measuring stick against the nation’s top ranked team.

“We’ve got this Michigan meet coming up in a few weeks that’s really important to us,” Spring said. “We want to be full strength for that.”

Beyond all the national implications, there’s some hostility between the teams that motivates the Illini, with Liscovitz even referring to the duel as a “heated rivalry.”

While it certainly will be looking forward to facing Michigan, Illinois isn’t about to lay down this week or in next week’s meet against Iowa.

“Even if it’s a low ranked team, we’re not going to play it easy, the guys that are out there are going to go all out,” junior Daniel Ribeiro said. “Even if it’s not our full starting lineup.”