UI gymnastics team comprised of freshmen with diverse backgrounds

One freshman Illini gymnast is a contender for the 2012 London Olympics. Another specializes on rings, while yet another is simply hoping to break into the Illini’s lineup. A fourth has family on the team, and the fifth and final member came to Illinois as a club gymnast.

“Our freshman class has a variety of people at different levels,” Illinois head coach Justin Spring said. “I’m happy with what I’ve seen from them so far, they’ve been finding their spots on the team.”

C.J. Maestas entered as the Illini’s star recruit, having competed on the international level and trained at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

In his first four weeks of competition at Illinois, he’s garnered six event titles, retained his spot on the U.S. Senior National Team, took second in the rings at the “2012 U.S. Winter Cup Challenge”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/02/ruggeri_maestas_make_national_team_at_winter_cup and has received National Gymnast of the Week, Big Ten Freshman Gymnast of the Week (twice) and Big Ten Gymnast of the Week honors.

“It’s awesome, it’s indescribable,” Maestas said of “his early success”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/01/freshman_maestas_storms_onto_mens_gymnastics_scene. “I remember being a freshman in high school and seeing the older guys getting awards in college and being like, ‘One day it’s gonna be me, hopefully.’ It’s nice to finally be living that.”

It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for Maestas and the rest of the freshmen. Spring said the transition into college gymnastics usually takes athletes awhile to get used to. None of the current Illini freshmen had competed on a team before — except for Mike Wilner, who competed on a team at his high school, Stevenson.

“I came from the team aspect of gymnastics,” Wilner said. “But like being part of college, there’s just a family aspect to it that you can’t really get from any sort of gymnastics out there.”

Wilner, the 2011 Junior Olympic National Champion on rings, was expected to be a top performer on the rings this season. He took second during a dual meet against No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 8 Michigan and competed in the event at Winter Cup. Spring said he contributes not only as a gymnast, but as a video editor for the team’s YouTube channel.

“He’s been a good balance for C.J. in a lot of ways,” Spring said.

None of the other three freshmen have made the lineup yet, although that may change this weekend, with many of the top “all-arounders resting”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/02/illini_mens_gymnastics_in_recovery_mode_after_winter_cup.

Josh Wilson could likely compete on three events this weekend, Spring said. He has been struggling with back injuries throughout the season, but his recovery is going well.

Nick Sacramento, younger brother of senior captain Anthony Sacramento, had planned to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a standout ring specialist. Spring said he’s had a rough start to the season with a long shoulder recovery, but he could potentially get “thrown into” the lineup, Spring said.

There is no chance of competition in the near future for Jacob Tilsley, who wasn’t originally slated to be on the team. Tilsley entered Illinois participating on the club gymnastics team and was moved up to the varsity team six weeks later than the other gymnasts. Spring said Tilsley was playing a constant game of catch-up and then, before the season-opener, was practicing on the vault when he landed short and fractured his foot. He is currently on crutches and could compete in the pommel horse toward the end of the season.

“We want these guys to get out there earlier and get experience,” Spring said. “We want to see what they can do before the big meets come around.”