Illini struggle to the top futile as Hawkeyes dominate

By Kieran Hampl

With time in the regular season running out, the No. 6 Illinois men’s gymnastics team was unable to get the job done this weekend, placing second in its last meet of the regular season at Nebraska. 

The Illini put up a score of 434.850, which placed ahead of No. 5 Minnesota, No. 10 Air Force and No. 11 Nebraska, but wasn’t enough to beat the 437.350 that No. 9 Iowa scored.

Despite experiencing many highs throughout the meet, the Illini were unable to put together the necessary hit percentage and untimely falls proved costly.

“We came up a little short,” head coach Justin Spring said. “We have not improved in the meets and have to be better.”

Even though the Illini lost a meet it expected to win right before the two end-of-season tournaments, the gymnast’s confidence and expectations are still high.

“This is almost a good thing for us, going in as underdogs and going in hungry,” freshman Matt Foster said referring to the team’s mind set going into the Big Ten Championship.

The Illini, who started the season strong, have faltered in recent weeks and have not been able to put everything together during any given meet.

Despite the lack of consistency as a whole, the Illini continued to have some excellent individual performances Saturday.

Foster led the team on pommel horse, scoring a career high of 14.950. Foster has been a consistent performer all season and showed he can anchor the team in arguably its strongest event.

Junior Jordan Valdez struggled on high bar, which has been his most consistent event all season, but took the top spot on parallel bars with a career high of 15.300. Parallel bars has been one of the Illini’s weaker events this season, and the win could give the team confidence for the Big Ten Championship.

“Parallel bars was fantastic,” Spring said.

In every meet this season, the Illini fared well individually but have struggled with falls, not being able to put full events together. 

“We have the potential to win every event individually,” Spring said.

But the team’s goal is to win a Big Ten and NCAA title, which will not happen unless all five guys on each event hit their routines.

In order to provide the team with the final push that it needs, the coaches decided to switch around practices for the next two weeks. The athletes will decide what they need to do to be ready to go by the time the Big Ten Championship rolls around, and the coaches are doing this to force the gymnasts to take ownership of their routines.

Foster said the best way to prepare is by creating high-pressure situations in practice, which the gymnasts do by cranking the radio all the way up and screaming during their teammates routines.

In order to calm themselves down, sophomore C.J. Maestas said the Illini have created a mantra for high-pressure situations that helps remind them to think about their practices at the Kenney Gym.

“Let’s bring it back to Kenney.”

Kieran can be reached at [email protected]