Illini try to regain focus for Penn State dual

Competition did not go as expected during the No. 2 Illinois men’s gymnastics team’s dual against No. 13 “UIC”:> on Saturday at Huff Hall.

There were falls on nearly every rotation and Illinois posted its lowest score of the season. The Illini still defeated the Flames by 10 points, but Illinois head coach Justin Spring knows the winning streak won’t continue if the Illini don’t improve.

“Next week is Penn State, and they are a much better team,” Spring said. “We will not beat them if we have a meet like (Saturday).” He hopes the low scores will give the gymnasts motivation.

“We gotta go back in the gym and try to gain some perspective on what we learned here,” Spring said. “Try to push up the energy in the gym and the fight.”

He plans for a hard week of practice to get the gymnasts back to top-level performances. Most of the “Winter Cup”:> gymnasts, who rested against UIC, should compete this weekend.

“We’re definitely going back in the gym with a purpose,” sophomore Jordan Valdez said. “To go in, put more numbers in, and be more consistent.”

*Athletes get first taste of lineup*

With many of the Illini’s top gymnasts “resting”:> after Winter Cup, others were given the “opportunity”:> to make the lineup for the first time this season. On Saturday, senior Devin Regan competed on the high bar for the first time this season, and junior Malcolm Brown had his season debut on the pommel horse. Freshman Josh Wilson participated in his first collegiate meet, competing on floor, vault and high bar.

Wilson had a few falls, which Spring said was to be expected.

“He really hasn’t had the opportunity to do the routine numbers that he needs, and that showed in the meet,” Spring said. “We always hope that it would go a little better, but he competed the way he’s been training, so we need to get him in the gym, keep his back healthy, keep his body in better shape. And I think we’ll look at him possibly down the end of the road this year, and he could be in the lineup.”

*Mori returns to the all-around*

Last weekend, junior Yoshi Mori competed in the all-around for the first time since the Big Ten Championships in 2010. That year, Mori won an all-around title and was named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year.

Since then, Mori has had a back injury and numerous surgeries, sidelining him from all-around competition. Mori knew it would be hard getting back into gymnastics shape, but expected to recover quicker.

“I think my main issue is endurance, having to do all six events with a time limit,” Mori said. “It’s kind of hard, so I’ve gotta get used to that. I’m exhausted. I’m a little sore, but it’s part of the process.”

Mori had multiple falls, which he partially attributes to tiring out by his final events — parallel bars and high bar.

“He’s got a lot of energy work, he’s got a lot of endurance work to do,” Spring said. “Doing one athlete on six events, especially with the routine demand that they have, is getting longer and harder,” Spring said.

Spring said that with other talented all-arounders on the team, including national team members senior Paul Ruggeri and freshman C.J. Maestas, it is highly unlikely that Mori will compete in the all-around again this season.

“It’s not that he can’t compete,” Spring said. “He just doesn’t have the numbers and his value to us is on other events.”