Illinois men’s gymnastics departs for Puerto Rico


Brian Bauer

Illinois’ Chandler Eggleston swings on the parallel bars in the meet against Minnesota at Huff Hall on Jan. 28. After their Puerto Rico tournament, the Illini will head to Ann Arbor, Michigan the following weekend.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

The Illinois men’s gymnastics team boarded a flight in Champaign at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The coaching staff planned to snorkel together as a team-bonding exercise Wednesday.

“You don’t really mind waking up at 4 a.m. when you’re heading to Puerto Rico,” junior Tyson Bull said. “It’s probably a different story if you’re heading to cold Michigan.”

The Illini will face familiar competition in the Puerto Rico Gymnastics Challenge: No. 14 Arizona State hosted Illinois in an early season meet, and Illinois travels to Ann Arbor, Michigan, next weekend to square off against Stanford and No. 11 Michigan.

During the Jan. 21 meet, Illinois won handily over Arizona State 422.9-396.2.

No. 18 Temple is the other collegiate team competing this weekend.

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There will also be representation from three members of the Spanish National Team and a full squad from Puerto Rico.

Head coach Justin Spring said Illinois chose to compete in the meet after hearing positive things about the experience from fellow Big Ten programs Michigan and Penn State.

“We don’t get a lot of opportunities to do big trips,” Spring said. “Some teams take international trips (during the summer), and this is kind of our version of that.”

Illinois looks to boost team scores, though it will be no small task since the meet features judges who are accustomed to scoring World and Olympic Games. Spring said these judges are more prone to add deductions.

Bull is coming off his fourth high bar event title against Iowa. He finished with a score of 14.250. However, he struggled during his pommel horse routine.

Throughout the year, the coaching staff has preached strong mental preparation. Bull, like many of his teammates, wants to ensure his practice routines transfer over to high scores in competition.

“Everyone is different,” Bull said. “I try to visualize being in different competition arenas, having a judging panel and just try to get my heart rate up.”

One highlight of the team’s last meet – which Spring described as having “a lack of energy” – came from freshman Jacob Light on the vault, an event the team needs more depth in if it wishes to compete with top-tier programs.

In only his second meet, Light recorded a 14.45 after taking a chance on an upgraded routine, despite not landing either practice attempt before the meet.

“There’s definitely some things I can clean up for that event,” Light said. “I’ve gone over it with the coaches, and there’s a few tenths that I can earn back. The goal is to get a title in the event.”

Chandler Eggleston is medically cleared to compete Saturday, though his role will depend on how he performs in the practice sessions leading up to the competition.

“I’m hoping he can get in on vault this weekend; that would be great,” Spring said. “We’ve been told to hold off on floor a little longer, so floor isn’t out of the question before the end of the year, but we’ll have to see how his knee holds up.”

Joey Peters, a redshirt senior, did not travel with the team, opting to rest the shoulder he had surgery on in the off-season. Peters sat out against Iowa.

In 2013, Peters received All-American honors in all-around, yet will likely no longer compete in every event, instead focusing on a return in floor, vault and parallel bars.

Spring said Peters will compete in those events because they place less strain on the shoulder.

“Every year you’re going to have some injuries,” Spring said. “The last year where (we suffered) nothing more than a couple hang nails, a bruised heel and a stubbed toe was 2012 … Everything that year seemed to go right, and I think it was the only year where we didn’t have an injury that completely took a guy out.”