Illinois to finish regular season with dual meet against Minnesota

By Bradley Zimmerman, Staff Writer

After spending the last month on a much-needed break from competition, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team will finish its regular season with a dual meet Monday against Minnesota.

This meet is not only the last one of Illinois and Minnesota’s regular seasons, but it’s also the last regular season meet in the history of Minnesota’s men’s gymnastics program.

Minnesota’s Board of Regents voted in October to discontinue the team at the conclusion of this season because of COVID-19 associated revenue loss. Despite a fierce effort from the collegiate gymnastics community to save the team, the regents’ decision stands.

“I feel for the Minnesota guys,” said graduate gymnast Danny Graham. “I’m definitely a little sad. I hope they enjoy their last time at the Pav and try to make the most of it.”

Minnesota hasn’t had the amazing season one would hope a program ends on. Competing exclusively against Big Ten opponents, Minnesota is 1-4. Their only win of the season came against Penn State two weeks ago with a season-high score of 404.300. They followed that score with a season-worst 384.400 the next week against Michigan.

“They didn’t have a good meet last weekend, but I think they are capable of pushing toward 400,” said head coach Justin Spring. “They’re a team that could surprise people.”

A contributing factor of that best-to-worst shift in scores is the departure of Shane Wiskus from the team. Wiskus, by far Minnesota’s best gymnast, is considered to be a heavy favorite of making the United States’ Olympic team and competing in the summer Olympics later this year. His focus is now on training for further USA Gymnastics competition and ultimately making Team USA.

“When you lose a guy like that, it’s devastating,” Spring said. “He’s such a big presence for them. He’s that good and is that important to their team.”

Illinois will also be without one of its best gymnasts for Monday’s meet. Junior all-arounder Hamish Carter is dealing with a nerve injury in his neck, though Spring stated that Carter will be able to compete when the postseason starts in two weeks. Freshman Sam Stinsa is also dealing with a knee injury, and the Illini lost junior Léo Valentin and freshman Will Hauke to injuries earlier in the year.

Despite that, Spring is pretty happy with where the team is at.

“I think our team is somehow in a better position than it has been for the first part of the season,” he said. “When we look at our practice averages, even without Hamish, we’re projected to be somewhere around a 406, which is pretty good. You add Hamish back in there, (and) we could be a 410+ team.”

After a 3-3 start to the season (2-3 in Big Ten competition), the Illini used the break to take a step back and work on their routines, adding skills and working on problematic areas to add a few tenths of a point to their scores. According to Graham, the practice has paid off.

“All of the guys are really looking good,” he said. “The pieces are coming together, and we’re starting to peak at the right time for Minnesota and then the postseason two weeks later. The routines are looking better, and everyone is really excited to compete, and I’m excited to see everyone at their best.”

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