Illinois men's gymnastics begins season with Orange and Blue exhibition

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Illinois men's gymnastics begins season with Orange and Blue exhibition

Illinois' Bobby Baker launches off the vault during the meet against Stanford at Huff Hall on Friday, March 6. The Illini lost 21-9.

Illinois' Bobby Baker launches off the vault during the meet against Stanford at Huff Hall on Friday, March 6. The Illini lost 21-9.

Illinois' Bobby Baker launches off the vault during the meet against Stanford at Huff Hall on Friday, March 6. The Illini lost 21-9.

Illinois' Bobby Baker launches off the vault during the meet against Stanford at Huff Hall on Friday, March 6. The Illini lost 21-9.

By James Boyd

Tweet: [email protected] prepping for Orange and Blue Exhibition with high expectations for 2016 #Illini

Illinois gymnastics head coach Justin Spring openly admits that his team fell short of expectations last season. 

“We have a giant 0.6 hanging up there on the wall,” said Spring. “Had we been six-tenths better at the Big Ten Championships, we would have been Big Ten Champions.”

Spring hopes that Sunday’s Orange and Blue exhibition at Huff Hall will serve as the starting point to a better season. The men’s team will compete alongside the Illinois women’s squad.

Entering his seventh season as the Illini’s head coach, Spring went on to talk about how he thinks the Orange and Blue Exhibition is a great way for him and the coaching staff to get a good look at what lineups they may use throughout the season. 

The gymnasts are excited to get out and have a good time.

“It is the most fun competition of the year,” sophomore Bobby Baker said. “Every routine is made to be fun and be a promotion for what we are about. So, I think it will be a blast.”

Baker acknowledged that the gymnasts’ routines may not be exactly what they do in regular and postseason competitions, but he insists they’ll still be looking to improve on last season both individually and collectively.

“I’m doing (parallel) bars again, so hopefully I don’t fall like last year,” Baker said, laughing.

Baker wants to focus on his floor routine, and hopes to use the competitive atmosphere of the Orange and Blue Exhibition to his advantage. He experienced a lot of individual success last year: He was named the Big Ten Gymnast and Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Spring mentioned that he also uses the Orange and Blue Exhibition as a way to test his freshman. This will be their first taste of gymnastics at the collegiate level and he wants to know how they will respond to the spotlight.

“You can’t deny that it’s different competing in front of a crowd,” Spring said. “I’m looking to see if they are going to hit in front of this crowd and in front of this team.”

Key contributors Mike Wilner, Jordan Valdez and CJ Maestas graduated in May — Spring admits that his new Illini have big shoes to fill. Regardless, the head coach believes that his team has a lot of unfinished business.

“There’s nothing worse than losing by less than a point,” Baker said.

They both look at last year as a learning experience, and expect this upcoming 2015-16 season to be a great one. The Orange and Blue exhibition is the first step in their journey.

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@RomeovilleKid