Illinois men’s gymnastics heads to Air Force Academy

By James Boyd

Break time is over.

After three weeks of practice at Kenney Gym, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team travels to Colorado Springs, Colorado this Saturday to begin the last leg of its regular season.

Illinois is currently 5th in the NCAA standings after losing to big ten foe Minnesota and last year’s national championship runner up Stanford in its last outing.

Awaiting Illinois are the 9th ranked California Golden Bears and 11th ranked Air Force Falcons.

Both opponents have performed well during Illinois’ time off and will come into the U.S. Air Force Academy looking to build on some of their recent success. California earned its first team win of 2016 after posting a season-high 431.550 against Illinois’ Big Ten counterpart Michigan and aforementioned Stanford, in a three-way meet.

The Falcons competed just last week against the University of Illinois-Chicago, and dominated the entire competition. Juniors Chase Cannon and Aaron Nubine, each took home three event titles, helping the Air Force earn a six-event sweep and nearly 30 point victory.

Sophomore Bobby Baker will compete after a two week absence from the team, and Illinois head coach Justin Spring expects the reigning Big Ten Gymnast of the Year to pick up right where he left off.

“I think Bob like the whole team is just hungry after taking this Winter Cup weekend off,” Spring said. “Bob’s a gamer and he’s probably very much looking forward to being back in the action.”

The Illini only had one team competition during Baker’s time off, the aforesaid six-way meet including Minnesota and Stanford, but his presence was certainly missed. The Illini’s narrow third place finish showed that the team was resilient, but proves how important it is to have your best gymnast out there competing.

Sophomore Chandler Eggleston may sit out in his teammate’s return due to injury. Spring hopes that the vault and floor exercise standout will be ready by the time they leave for Colorado, but made it clear that Eggleston could need more than the team’s three week break to recover.

“His ankle has been killing him,” Spring said. “He hasn’t done floor or vault since Minnesota … right now he’s not really in any lineups.”

The head coach went on to express his concern over the timing of the injury. At this stage in the season, Spring wants to see Eggleston display some of the parallel bars and high bar upgrades he’s been working on in real competition, but he refuses to allow the sophomore to compete if he isn’t able to do so at a high level.

Sophomore Brandon Ngai, the country’s best pommel horse gymnast, will try to extend his streak of pommel horse titles when Illinois puts its 12-3 record up against California and Air Force. The 17-year-old pommel horse specialist has posted solid scores each time he’s performed on the apparatus this year.

Illinois will compete in a five up-five count for the first time. Spring believes the new format, which doesn’t allow teams to drop their lowest events scores, could allow a lot of guys to prove their worth or cause his team to fold under pressure.

“Ideally we’re going to put guys in the lineup that are hitting constantly,” Spring said. “You can not have those elevens, you can not have those twelves … Those scores will bury your team quickly.”

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