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Illinois men’s gymnastics awaits top competition

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Illinois' Matt Foster prepares to mount the pommel horse in the meet against Minnesota on Jan. 28.

Illinois' Matt Foster prepares to mount the pommel horse in the meet against Minnesota on Jan. 28.

Brian Bauer

Brian Bauer

Illinois' Matt Foster prepares to mount the pommel horse in the meet against Minnesota on Jan. 28.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

The No. 3 Illinois men’s gymnastics team will start the final run of its season Saturday with a meet against Stanford and Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

This meet will be followed by ones against Oklahoma and Ohio State.

“Every single meet from here on out is going to be a very intense competition,” head coach Justin Spring said. “We’re facing all the best teams in the country…That is literally the most important three teams in all postseason meets back-to-back.”

Collectively, in terms of average team points per meet, the Cardinal rank first in the nation on the floor, second on high bar and rings, third on vault and parallel bars, and fourth on pommel horse.

Recently, Stanford sustained its first loss of the season by a narrow margin to two-time defending national champion, Oklahoma.

The only other time Stanford has lost was in another home competition at Burnham Pavilion, and the Cardinal finished second on Feb. 25 in the International Collegiate Challenge, an event which featured Japan and Canada.

Illinois recently faced international competition as well, placing first in the Puerto Rico Gymnastics Challenge on Saturday. Michigan also competed in San Juan, finishing second.

Illinois freshman Jacob Light showed further improvement in the vault, putting up another season-high with a score of 14.80 in the event.

After sitting out a week, redshirt junior Chandler Eggleston returned to action for the Illini in San Juan.

During the second rotation, Eggleston had a season-high of his own on vault, recording a 14.35. He hopes to land an upgraded vault in this weekend’s competition.

“It’s almost like I couldn’t remember how to do it, but it’s something I’ve been doing since high school,” Eggleston said. “I plan to get it back and hopefully do it this weekend.”

Illinois overcame an early deficit after struggling on the rings in the first rotation.

“There’s really no reason to have even one fall on a ring lineup, let alone five in four routines,” Spring said. “We made a lot of careless mistakes that I don’t think we’ll see again.”

Spring said that a lack of initial focus may have occurred because of the “casual environment” at the open-air training gym. He felt his team performed better under pressure — an approach the Illini will need during “intense” upcoming competition.

In the third rotation, sophomore Johnny Jacobson scored 14.30 on parallel bars, claiming his fifth title in the event this season.

Jacobson believes his team has what it takes to upset Stanford and make a climb in the national rankings.

“It’s almost inevitable we’re going to finish our last two (or) three events just slamming sets,” Jacobson said. “If we just start strong, then I’d say we can give Stanford a run for their money.”

The Illini concluded the Puerto Rico Challenge with a season-high 70.25 on the pommel horse.

Senior Matt Foster recorded a 15.25, the highest pommel horse score for the Illini this season.

“He hit probably one of the best routines I’ve seen him do in a meet ever,” Spring said. “I’ve seen him do it in practice all the time, so it was great to finally see him swing freely and put up a huge number.”

The self-titled, “PK” — otherwise known as the “pommel crew” — has the opportunity to set the tone early as the members lead off the team’s first rotation Saturday.

“Our horse unit has really been coming together as a collective,” Foster said. “I’d love to see us start out there and go five-for-five and just set the tempo, bring the energy and keep it within ourselves.”

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