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Illinois men’s gymnastics hosts Big Ten Championships

Matt+Foster+on+the+pommel+horse+in+the+meet+against+Minnesota+at+Huff+Hall+on+Jan.+28.
Matt Foster on the pommel horse in the meet against Minnesota at Huff Hall on Jan. 28.

Matt Foster on the pommel horse in the meet against Minnesota at Huff Hall on Jan. 28.

Brian Bauer

Brian Bauer

Matt Foster on the pommel horse in the meet against Minnesota at Huff Hall on Jan. 28.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

The Illinois men’s gymnastics team has been preparing for the Big Ten Championships the entire season and will not have to travel far.

The State Farm Center will host the conference championship meet Friday.

“We’ve been thinking about it all year,” said senior Matt Foster. “I’ve been visualizing my pommel horse set in State Farm (Center) for the last four months now.”

Illinois won the Big Ten title when it last hosted the event in 2011. Head coach Justin Spring said he believes at least four teams have a chance of walking away with a championship title this weekend.

In the past two seasons, the host schools — Penn State and Ohio State — have won the conference meet, respectively.

“The home field advantage exists because you feel it’s your responsibility to defend this place for not just yourself but for this team, this program, for the alum coming back,” Spring said. “So hosting the event intensifies the responsibility on the athletes, but that’s what makes it so special.”

Illinois started the season 9-0 and recorded a team-high of 422.90 points in the second meet of the year at Arizona State. However, Spring said the team has since had to overcome injuries to key contributors, making it challenging for the coaching staff to pick each lineup.

Last weekend, during Senior Night at Huff Hall, Illinois lost to Ohio State, 416.85-415.25.

“I feel good about the tweaks we’ve made since Ohio State,” Spring said. “I think we’re going to be in the best position we can to challenge any team on the floor.”

The program leads the conference with 27 overall team titles, dating back to the first-ever meet hosted by Wisconsin in 1902. Minnesota and Michigan round out the top three with 21 and 17 titles, respectively.

Illinois held a team meeting Monday and reflected on the significance of the upcoming meet.

“We just talked about the team’s culture and what it meant to everyone,” Foster said. “We talked about how much we truly care for one another and how much we love each other.”

The team plans to treat meet day like any other Friday.

“In some ways, you may think it’s terrible (going to class), but I remember competing in postseason meets when you’re away, and you just sit in a hotel waiting,” Spring said. “Honestly, the anxiety of waiting is way worse; I would almost rather be in class.”

Foster, a senior in Business, does not have class Friday.

His day will likely consist of eating scrambled eggs with the team, playing Super Smash Brothers with fellow pommel horse teammate junior Brandon Ngai and playing music with his roommates before departing for the State Farm Center.

It’s all business for Foster once he leaves for the competition. The senior said he will do his best to “go to work and make some magic happen” during his final conference meet.

“This is the one that matters,” Spring said. “There’s a lot riding on this one night.”

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