Men gymnastics announces schedule for 2013-14

This past Tuesday, men’s gymnastics head coach Justin Spring announced his team’s schedule for the 2013-2014 season, and it’s a doozy.

First of all; Michigan, Michigan, Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off their second national team title in four years and are always competitive. Illinois will face the Blue and Maize at the NCAA Championships in April, which will be hosted in, wait for it, Ann Arbor of course.

Ohio State is also a force to be reckoned with in men’s gymnastics. The Buckeyes commanded attention in the early 2000s, winning the title or coming in second almost every year from 2000 to 2005. Talk about monopolizing the competition. OSU will be Illinois’ first Big Ten test as they come to Champaign relatively early in the season.

Then there’s Nebraska. Illinois travels to Omaha for its regular season finale March 15, where they will take on the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is a storied program, holding eight national championships and effectively dominating NCAA competition during the 70s and 80s.

Oh, but when the competition is fierce — and it will be this year — gymnastics is so much fun to watch. The athletes practically ooze adrenaline, firing up the whole arena.

Picture it: a stuck landing, a roar of triumph and high-fives all around. The atmosphere is electric, and fans are on the edges of their seats, holding their breath as they watch the athletes seemingly defy gravity.

And they make it look so easy. Flipping and twisting to perfection to land that triple full on floor? No biggie. Keeping perfect poise and concentration of pommel horse? Piece of cake.

Gymnasts have to be so extremely disciplined. I would venture to say gymnastics is one of, if not the most, technical sports there is.

I was a gymnastics coach for years. I observed girls and boys train relentlessly every day from a very young age, competing for national titles and a chance to represent a top-tier university.

But mostly I just watched in awe while herding kindergartners through obstacle courses, usually thinking to myself, “Man, I wish I could do that.”

The 2012-13 season was a strange one for the Illini. There was injury, disappointment and ultimately success in the form of freshman phenom Fred Hartville.

But the future looks promising. Not only has Illinois advanced to the final round of the NCAA championships for each of the last 11 years, but they return many key players as well.

2013 vault champ Hartville returns to defend his title, and all-around gymnast C.J. Maestas makes his comeback after suffering a devastating tricep injury last December that sidelined him for the entire season.

Also looking to make an impression early in his Illinois career is Chandler Eggleston. Though a rookie to collegiate gymnastics, this freshman is no stranger to high stakes competition. Eggleston was a member of the 2013 U.S. Junior National Team, winning floor exercise and vault at the Junior Olympics.

Eggleston — along with Illinois teammate Matt Foster — was also named to the 2013-14 Men’s Junior National Team.

The Illini officially open their season Dec. 8 with the annual Orange and Blue exhibition at Huff Hall.

If I was Coach Spring, I would be beyond excited. There seems to be a unique mix of experience and new talent on the 2013-14 roster that could make for an excellent, and winning, combination.

Aryn is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ArynBraun.