Illini gymnastics team uses simulation to prepare for tournaments

Jordan Valdez performs a high bar routine against Ohio State at Huff Hall on Jan. 26.

By Kieran Hampl

The No. 6 Illini men’s gymnastics team will look to account for the crowd, the other teams and the nerves of this weekend’s meet.

This weekend, the team will travel to Lincoln, Neb., to compete against No. 5 Minnesota, No. 7 Iowa, No. 10 Air Force and No. 12 Nebraska.

To prepare for the final meet of the regular season as well as the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, which begin in a matter of weeks, the Illini held a simulation Big Ten Championship during Tuesday’s practice.

“It’s another opportunity for the guys to really prove to themselves, that they can put it together on the same day and put all the gymnastics on the line and get the score that we feel that it is going to take to be a championship team,” head coach Justin Spring said.

Using simulated scores for the other Big Ten teams based on coaches’ expectations, the Illini competed in all six events exactly as they would in a meet, taking close to four hours.

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    Practice is usually a time to work hard on refining techniques and adding new moves to routines, but that was not the case Tuesday.

    The coaches emphasized the importance of the mock meet for determining the final lineups for the Nebraska meet, which will most likely be very similar to those used in the Big Ten Championship. This meant that gymnasts could potentially lose their spot because of their performances in practice.

    The coaches also did this to add pressure and see who would be able to step up compared with those may not be ready to handle the nerves.

    “Everyone could do routines when they’re comfortable, but when you get into a competition setting you get nervous, it’s a little different crowd, different equipment,” senior gymnast Jordan Valdez said. “This week and next week, we are really focusing on getting ourselves uncomfortable so we are getting ourselves ready for basically any situation.” 

    Freshman Chandler Eggleston, who has been one of the Illini’s best performers all season, said depending on how his parallel bar routine went Tuesday would determine if he would compete in that event at Nebraska.

    Despite each gymnast competing for a spot on the roster, the team cheered each other on instead of rooting against them. Individuals are still looking to win their individual events, but they all know the team comes first.

    Despite the coaches trying to prepare the Illini for the tantalizing conditions at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, it will be a matter of whether the team can overcome the nerves.

    “You have to be mentally strong and keep fighting always,” Spring said.

    Kieran can be reached at [email protected].