Illinois men’s gymnastics prepares for Penn State, Winter Cup

By Kieran Hampl

This weekend’s meet against No. 7 Penn State is just another stop for the No. 5 Illinois men’s gymnastics team on the way to its ultimate goal of winning the Big Ten Championship and then the NCAAs. 

This does not mean the Illini are taking Penn State lightly because like Minnesota proved two weekends ago, anything can happen if the team doesn’t land its routines. But the Illini are focusing on being more consistent, and they understand that if they land their routines, they will win. 

Penn State is a consistent powerhouse but lost some of its best gymnasts after last season. Sophomore Trevor Howard is coming off a spectacular season and has led the team again this year. 

“They’re a good opponent, they have always been a strong team … they’re not going to give it to us,” head coach Justin Spring said. “We’re going to have to do well to earn it.”

While preparing for this weekend, the Illini are also handling the pressures of preparing for the Winter Cup, trying to add difficulty to routines and get everyone back to 100 percent health.

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    The Winter Cup is held next Thursday through Sunday in Las Vegas and will give the five Illini who qualified the chance to earn a spot for the national team.

    The five athletes who will be competing in this event are sophomore C.J. Maestas, freshman Chandler Eggleston, sophomore Fred Hartville, junior Mike Wilner and sophomore Joey Peters. Hartville will just be competing in the floor and vault while Wilner will do rings and floor. It is a long shot that either will qualify for the national team, as they are each only competing in two events, but they both have the chance to be U.S. national champions.

    Maestas, Eggleston and Peters have a strong chance at making the team because they are competing in more events, which gives them the opportunity to rack up more points.

    “I do think that Joey, C.J., and Chandler have a decent shot at making the national team because they got two or three strong events that they can get points on,” Spring said.

    The Winter Cup is solely an individual event, so the team has placed a lot of emphasis on not looking past Penn State and losing track of its team priorities.

    Another challenge the team is dealing with is trying to increase the difficulty on some of the athlete’s routines, which would give them a chance to put up higher scores in the NCAAs. In some cases, the coaching staff has removed some moves from the routines in an attempt to make it more manageable for the athletes who have either been struggling or are working their way back from injury.

    “We have been really trying to tweak some routines to get them to be more consistent,” Spring said.

    The Illini, who have had a very successful start to the season, have also been dealing with many scattered injuries. 

    “We really have only had a full lineup on a few events throughout the whole season … and because of the injuries, I don’t think we will field a full lineup maybe even until UIC or even Nebraska, possibly Big Tens even,” Spring said.

    Maestas, who suffered a tricep injury last season, is not yet at full health, despite competing in all six events in the last two competitions. 

    “The first meet that I did I was really just trying to get through on all six events, and now going into Penn State, I am able to go through a floor routine and not be tired,” Maestas said.

    The Illini are aware of their ultimate goals but realize that every practice and every meet will go a long way in making them as consistent as possible, which is crucial in a sport where every point counts.

    Kieran can be reached at [email protected].