Illini gymnasts look to earn berth on national team

By Kieran Hampl

All year it has been about the team for the Illinois men’s gymnastics program and making a run at the end of the season during the Big Ten and NCAA championships. 

That is not the case this weekend for the five Illini who will be competing in the Winter Cup in Las Vegas for a chance to claim a spot on the U.S. national team.

The Winter Cup is a four day-long event with the competition getting underway on Thursday.

The five athletes who will be competing for the Illini are freshman Chandler Eggleston, sophomores C.J. Maestas, Fred Hartville and Joey Peters and junior Mike Wilner.

Hartville will 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.

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“My expectations for Winter Cup is to just go in and hit both the events and hopefully make second day,” Hartville said.

According to head coach Justin Spring the other three all have strong shots at making the team if they are able to put together solid routines in multiple events, which would allow them to accrue more total 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.

Maestas may be considered the favorite to land a spot on the team considering he was a member of the national team as a freshman and knows what it takes. Still, it will not be easy coming off a triceps injury, but not being able to reclaim his spot last year will certainly provide him with motivation.

“First and foremost, (I am focused on) doing all six (events) again and getting back on the national team,” Maestas said. “Not only just getting back on the national team, but proving to the coaches and the national team coordinator … that I’m a different gymnast.”

Eggleston has performed at a very high level this season winning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for five consecutive weeks. His two best events this season have been the floor and vault. Spring thinks the key for Eggleston will be putting up solid scores in his secondary events.

Peters also has a strong shot to make the team because of his versatility on each event. As a freshman, he earned All-American honors in the all-around and posted at least one top-five finish on each apparatus except vault.

Out of the 15 people who will be on the U.S. national team, eight of them will come directly from the Winter Cup and will be named on Saturday after the final round of competition.