No. 5 men’s gymnastics hope to clean up new, more difficult routines

A Big Ten title and fifth-place at the NCAA Championships isn’t enough for the nationally ranked No. 5 Illinois men’s gymnastics team.

Led by new head coach Justin Spring, the Illini have upgraded all their routines in an attempt to have the highest start value possible. Spring said that at nationals last year, Stanford had beat them before the Illini even walked in the gym because of the differing start values.

“Justin is a really great coach, he really helps challenge us,” sophomore Austin Phillips said. “He’s laid back, and, being in the Olympics, he just really influences all of us.”

Spring said that all summer and preseason, the Illini have practiced adding a lot of difficulty to their routines, which they debuted Sunday during the annual Mixed Pairs Exhibition meet at Huff Hall.

The duo of Melissa Fernandez and Austin Phillips won the competition scoring 29.90. They were followed closely behind by Sarah Schmidt and Max Portocarrero who scored 29.85. Taking third place was Samantha Perino and Tyler Mizoguchi.

“I think (the Exhibition) is awesome,” Phillips said. “It’s kind of like a show for everyone. It shows everyone what we have been training for since last summer and all last year.”

Because of the added difficulty to the men’s routines, there was a high amount of falls and missed routines. The men had a lot of falls particularly on the floor and high bars.

“We struggled a bit, it was chilly (in Huff) and the floor was different, we need to get used to all the equipment again,” junior Paul Ruggeri said. “We need to get all the kinks out, that’s what this meet is for.”

Freshman Malcolm Brown had his first appearance competing with the team in the collegiate level. Spring said that he seemed to make the transition well.

“Malcolm really pulled through today,” Spring said. “He finished 95 percent, I am pretty impressed it is better than we’ve seen him do all year. I hope he competes this season on the pommel horse. He really has potential.”

With all the added difficulties to the Illini routine, the men hope to build off last season and finish even better in the NCAA Championships.

“I think we all have a lot of potential,” Philips said. “We are a lot stronger, and we are in better shape earlier in the season.”

Spring thinks that if the Illini are able to clean up their difficult routines, they will have success because of the strong start totals, which are at the top of the nation.

“We need to get in the point where we can hit them all,” Spring said. “We have the difficulty, we have some of the highest starts in the country, but we need to hit them, and we have all preseason to learn to do that.”