Who’s the coolest McCool in the gym?

Senior+Connor+McCool+flips+during+his+first-place+floor+routine+on+Feb.+4%2C+scoring+14.400+points.

Jacob Slabosz

Senior Connor McCool flips during his first-place floor routine on Feb. 4, scoring 14.400 points.

By Matthew Sinele, Staff Writer

Standing out in a Division I program’s history is impressive. But writing yourself into the history books of a program with such a plethora of accolades? Now that’s cool.

During his four years at Illinois, senior Connor McCool has developed into a pivotal part of Illinois men’s gymnastics program history. His 11th event title at Ohio State on Feb. 11 moved him into the Top-10 All-Time Titles list at Illinois.

“(It’s) such an honor,” McCool said. “It wasn’t really ever something I thought about doing until this year was going really well, and I got myself into the top 10, and I’ve got a little bit of time to keep moving up that list.”

With a unique routine that currently sits McCool at second in the nation in the floor exercise, he is in a great position to improve his position in Illinois’ list of greats.

Because of the ever-changing rules of the gymnastics scene, McCool has had to get ‘down and dirty’ in searching the rule book to find a creative routine that utilizes his distinct skill set. His first pass is something that no other individual currently performs in the NCAA, further characterizing his creativity in finding ways to overcome these types of obstacles. He carries that same intuition and love for the sport into his role as team captain.

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    “I’m trying to find the best routine and skillset for everybody,” McCool said. “I think that’s where I really pose my greatest benefit to the guys — I’m just a student of the game for myself, but also I’m trying to expand that to everybody else on my team.”

    McCool has been able to extend this to the other members in more ways than just advice. During his time at the University, he has also led by example in the academic field, being named to the Academic All-Big Ten Team the past two seasons and finishing last semester with a 4.0 GPA.

    “We hold ourselves to a higher standard than other sports because we’re really invested in the longevity of our sport,” McCool said. “We want to do everything we can to make sure that we’re shedding Illinois men’s gymnastics in the best light.”

    His focus on optimizing and elevating his and his team’s performance inside and outside of the classroom is what makes him unique to the program. This skill set was also a major help to his teammates this past offseason in a time of uncertainty for Illinois gymnastics.

    In his first year as head coach, Daniel Ribeiro had duties during the offseason to coach overseas, leaving the team to assistant Don Osborn to act as interim head coach. For team members entering a new season, and even more so for recruits, having a well-established coach is vital in the preparation for a successful regular season; however, given the circumstances, this wasn’t in the cards for Illinois.

    “I had to learn a lot about myself and my strengths as a leader to keep the team grounded when we had so much uncertainty,” McCool said. “It gave me a lot of confidence in my leadership style, and it gave me a lot of confidence in Don with the way he was able to handle the team despite being overseas.”

    While this is a bright spot on what has already been an exceptional season so far for McCool, his current focus is to continue to build upon the team’s success.

    “We want to come home with some hardware this year,” McCool said. “The Big Ten is wide open this year. We really believe that we’re the number one contender and we’re looking for redemption.”

     

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