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Amari Sewell and Connor McCool set to continue in stride for Illini Men's Gymnastics

By Adrian Carrasco

Connor McCool and Amari Sewell talk with ISN's Alec Gilmore.

As of week five of the season, Illinois sits in at fifth in the nation in Men’s Gymnastics. The 8-2 Illini Men’s Gymnastics are right in the middle of the strong Big Ten conference.

Undoubtedly, two of the Illini’s leaders, Sophomore Amari Sewell and Senior Connor McCool have made a great impact on the team.

Sewell, in his debut with Illinois, started with a bang at the Windy City Invitational, where he had improved on his then personal best on vault at the start of the season.

Sewell sits atop the nation on vault, part of the nation’s top three athletes.

The Maryland native, who was once part of the University of Iowa’s now-dissolved Gymnastics program quickly found a new home in Illinois saying, “Illinois provided me with the brotherhood, leadership, talent to allow me to feel comfortable and safe within myself to further my career in gymnastics.”

Since transferring to Illinois, Sewell has brought the energy and expressiveness cherished by the rest of the team.

Sewell has consistently performed at a top level on vault. The weeks following the Windy City Invitational, Sewell had once again crushed his personal bests, setting his career high on vault (14.750) against Oklahoma and Air Force on Jan. 28, then tying that same score the following week against Penn State.

In Illinois’ most recent meet, though it may have been a slim defeat at the hands of Big Ten rival Ohio State, the Illini had much to celebrate despite the 399.200-401.000 loss.

Sewell was once again able to notch new career highs, this time on the floor, where he scored a 14.000.

The Illini collectively performed quite well on the floor and McCool was no exception. McCool won the meet’s floor title with a 14.150 performance of his own.

Amari Sewell and Connor McCool on ISN's set at Richmond Studio.

With his floor performance in this meet, McCool earned his eleventh title with Illinois, reaching in the Top 10 in all-time floor titles, a list that includes several Olympians who are now alongside McCool in Illinois’ record books.

McCool, the team captain, currently is ranked as the nation’s second-best athlete on the floor. He reached his season high against Oklahoma and Air Force with a 14.600 on the floor.

This season, McCool is averaging a 14.320 on the floor, which would rank as his highest average score if the season ended today.

The senior has a large list of accolades to coincide with his career at Illinois. McCool has earned 2 NCAA All-American nods in 2020 and 2021, along with two Academic All-Big Ten awards to name a few.

The team may be heading into a three-week bye, but McCool among teammates Ian Skirkey and Michael Fletcher is heading to the Winter Cup, a qualifying event for the 2023 U.S. Gymnastics Championships along with selecting the Senior National Gymnastics team.

McCool, Skirkey, and Fletcher are U of I’s sole representatives at the Winter Cup. The three-day event kicks off on Feb. 24 carrying through the end of that weekend.

After this break, the team will be back in action against the nation’s top team, Stanford.

The last time the two faced off, Illinois took home a win in 2019’s meetup. However, the teams will now look quite different come Mar. 4.

Stanford averages a team score of 412.788, 11.208 points ahead of the Illini’s average, and 3.988 points greater than the Illini’s high of the season (408.800).

The Illini sit behind Stanford in most event averages, with the exception being on Pommel Horse. However, this is not to say the differences are too drastic. For most categories, Illinois is only behind Stanford by one or two spots.

With key performances from Sewell and McCool, the Illini should be able to keep up with a high-scoring Stanford team.

Following this meet, the Illini are back home against Nebraska on Mar. 12, the last home meet of the season.

Nebraska currently is a spot behind Illinois as the nation’s number six ranked team and fourth in the Big Ten.

The Illini then close out the regular season at the nation’s current number four ranked team Michigan following the meet against Nebraska.

With this in mind, the Illini have plenty of room to make a statement against the number one team in the nation and conference rivals.

Head Coach Daniel Ribeiro and the team are looking forward to the bye, with Ribeiro adding “The more prepared we are, the less likely mistakes will happen. This will fuel us through the bye."

Sewell, McCool, and the rest of the Illini Men’s Gymnastics team are looking to make one more push to solidify their status as top contenders ahead of the Big Ten and NCAA Championships in March and April.

Watch ISN's Alec Gilmore interview with the duo of Amari Sewell and Connor McCool here:

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