Illinois men’s gymnastics heads to Michigan for regular season finale

By Daniel Collins

The Illinois men’s gymnastics team has one last meet to prepare for the Big Ten Championship later this month.

The team wraps up its regular season on the road Sunday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, against the two-time defending national champion Wolverines.

While head coach Justin Spring would have preferred a healthy squad for the team’s last tune up, he knows that hasn’t been the case all season.

“We’re trying as much as we can to put our Big Ten lineup up against Michigan, but we have those lingering injuries,” Spring said.

For most of the week, redshirt junior C.J. Maestas was planning to compete for the all-around title for the first time in four meets. But a lingering shoulder injury suffered nearly a month ago continues to limit Maestas’ availability. 

Maestas, who is probable to compete Sunday, recognizes that a meet against no. 4 Michigan can help the team mentally prepare for the Big Ten and NCAA National Championships in mid-April. 

“It’s nice to compete against a tough team before the big showdown,” Maestas said.

Michigan is coming off wins against No. 5 Penn State and No. 18 Temple and the Puerto Rican National team in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Three of Michigan’s most notable gymnast are sophomore Tristian Perez-Rivera and seniors Colin Mahar and Paul Rizkalla Jr.

Perez-Rivera is known for competing in the all-around, Mahar’s main event is the still rings and Rizkalla focuses on both still rings and vault. 

Possible key matchups might include Illinois senior Mike Wilner or Maestas against Mahar on the still rings and Illinois junior Fred Hartville against Rizkalla in the vault competition.

Sophomore Matt Foster and Junior Max Mayr will have to be two main contributors for the Illini if Maestas and freshman Bobby Baker see limited action.

Baker is recovering from a lingering neck injury suffered in the team’s meet against Oklahoma. While he hasn’t been sidelined an entire meet, the amount of events he competes in has been limited.

Foster and Mayr are having two of the more consistent seasons for the Illini, both in health and production.

Spring knows it’s going to take maximum effort from the whole team in order to end the regular season with positive momentum.    

“(Michigan) is a resilient team,” Spring said. “They’re going to be preparing to hit some high scores for postseason.”

The last time Illinois competed against Michigan, the Illini edged the Wolverines for first place at the Windy City Invitational by a score of 428.100-422.950. 

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