Men's Gymnastics
Illini Send Three Gymnasts to Winter Cup Challenge

Chad Mason will make his first career Winter Cup appearance on Thursday.
Chad Mason will make his first career Winter Cup appearance on Thursday.

Feb. 6, 2013

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The reigning NCAA champion Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team will send three gymnasts to compete in the 2013 U.S. Winter Cup Challenge this Thursday and Saturday at the Las Vegas Sports Center. Senior Yoshi Mori and juniors Jordan Valdez and Chad Mason, along with volunteer assistant coach and former Illinois gymnast Luke Stannard, will compete for national titles and spots on the U.S. senior national team.

"Yoshi is gunning for a national team spot," head coach Justin Spring said. "It's been tough with all of his injuries, but with his potential, his start values and his strengths on pommel horse, floor, parallel bars and high bar, he could be in the mix to make the national team, which would be incredible, especially considering how his training has been such a variable this season."

Mori, a two-time NCAA All-American who earned the status on pommel horse and in the all-around in 2012, will compete in the all-around on Thursday night. The Irvine, Calif., native boasts two pommel horse titles this season, leading the team on that apparatus. This year will mark his first Winter Cup appearance since his freshman season in 2010.

Mason, a 2012 pommel horse All-American who was instrumental in Illinois' two-point comeback at the NCAA Championships to take the team title last year, will see his first-ever Winter Cup action this week, competing on pommel horse.

Team captain and 2012 high bar All-American Valdez will compete on high bar and parallel bars and will make his second career Winter Cup appearance and first since his freshman year in 2011. The Louisville, Colo., native has picked up two high bar titles this season, leading the team in that category.

"Chad is going out and competing for a national title on pommel horse," Spring said. "And Jordan is doing that on parallel bars and high bar. With Jordan's cleanliness and upgrades, I think he stands a fighting chance to place very high on both events and earn National Team Points, possibly putting him in the running for the national team."

Stannard, a 2010 Illinois graduate and Nissen-Emery Award winner, is a former U.S. national champion, NCAA All-American and Big Ten champion on pommel horse. The Waukegan, Ill., native will compete in the all-around despite a torn ligament in his thumb.

"Luke has been a trooper," Spring said. "He's been fighting through, and I expect him to do quite well in the all-around and on pommel horse."

Winter Cup performances will help determine the 15-man roster for the U.S. men's senior national team through the 2013 Visa Championships in August. The eight members of the 2012 Olympic team will retain their spots on the national team.

The remaining seven spots will be filled based on the following criteria: the top two all-arounders who were not on the Olympic team, the top two gymnasts based on the National Team Point System, two athletes selected by the Men's Program Committee and one chosen by the national team coordinator.

The top 42 gymnasts, according to the National Team Point System, will advance to the final day of competition, along with the top three gymnasts on each apparatus. The all-around and individual event champions will be determined by their combined two-day scores.

The Winter Cup Challenge begins this Thursday with two preliminary sessions. The Illini will compete in the second session, which starts at 6:30 p.m. CT. The final round of competition will take place Saturday at 9:15 p.m. CT.