Freshman gymnasts to perform this weekend

By Daniel Collins

Illinois men’s gymnastics head coach Justin Spring will be placing more freshmen into his lineup than he is accustomed to this weekend against Ohio State.

Junior C.J. Maestas and freshman Bobby Baker will see limited action, if any, on Saturday due to spending the majority of the week training at the Olympic Training Center. In addition, sophomore Chandler Eggleston and junior Fred Hartville are injured and will not compete.

Typically, Spring will not start a member from his freshmen squad until they have proven that they are fully capable of putting up a strong hit percentage on their routines.

“We’ve got guys in this weekend that — with our full lineup — probably wouldn’t make lineup, and that sends a powerful message that you’re not ready,” Spring said. “We’ll give C.J. a rest. That arguably can be a two-point difference in score.”

Three freshmen that are likely to see action this weekend are Dennis Minton, Harry McLellan and Tyson Bull. Bull participated in the dual meet against UIC at the Windy City Invite, but did not compete in the pommel horse, which he will most likely be used in against the Buckeyes.

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Ohio State was one the teams that finished behind first-place Illinois at the Windy City invite. However, Spring said he is anticipating a better effort from them this time around.

“Having a Big Ten Conference meet with a team that I think was at half strength at Windy City … I think they’re angry and they’re going to put in a full lineup this weekend.” Spring said.

Resting Maestas, who has a decorated gymnastics career at Illinois, is an obvious setback, but Baker has proven early on that he has the potential to produce for the Illini.

“He’s pretty much one of the most talented people I’ve ever met,” senior Jordan Valdez said of Baker. “We’ve had him try things that take people weeks, months, (sometimes) years to learn, and he’ll pick it up in two days.”

While resting a couple of the team’s top performers puts the Illini at risk of losing valuable points, junior Joey Peters said the chance for some of the younger members to gain experience still has its advantages. 

“Our bodies are kind of wearing away,” Peters said. “Some of these guys now have the opportunity to step in and give us a break.”

Regardless of the situation, Spring said there is still a possibility of leaving Columbus with a win.

“I still think we should be able to beat a strong Ohio State team,” he said. “The problem with that is when you put in some of these guys that questionably haven’t earned that lineup spot yet, you run into some trouble.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @collins_d2.