Men’s gymnastics team start year on right foot

By Mike Czapar

The No. 2 Illinois men’s gymnastics team kicked off the New Year and the new season with a win at the 35th-annual Windy City Classic at UIC over break.

The Illinois performance featured not only career-high marks from experienced Illini veterans, but also impressive routines from talented newcomers.

The Illinois squad led nearly the entire meet, as senior Peter Shostchuk earned a career high 9.2 on the parallel bars and junior Adam Pummer notched a career high 9.7 on the high bar.

The Illini freshmen came out strong as well in their first collegiate competition. Wes Haagensen took second in the all-around competition and Tyler Yamauchi led the Illini on the rings with a 9.725 and had a strong floor routine.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki was pleased to have such a promising performance at such an early point in the season.

“For the beginning of the season, we’re coming together quicker than we thought,” Hayasaki said. “Peter and Adam had some very solid performances and the freshmen really performed well in their first collegiate meet. We had some rough spots, but overall the guys really came through.”

The victory came without full participation from one of the Illini’s top performers and returning all-Americans, junior Justin Spring. Hayasaki was excited that while Spring is returning to competition shape, many other members of the team stepped up and gave strong performances.

“We haven’t even really used Justin yet, so to be able to win at the Windy City says a lot about our team,” Hayasaki said. “We had a really standout performance from our freshmen. Wes Haagensen’s second place in the all-around was really big – it has been a long time since a freshman has placed so high at this meet in the all-around competition.”

Illinois attributes its early season success at the Windy City to consistency. Pummer said the key to the Illini’s strong performance was the elimination of errors and performing with confidence.

“Our consistency as far as making routines at this year’s Windy City was really high,” Pummer said. “Most of us come into the first meet of the year expecting to fall, but on a lot of events we almost hit six-for-six. We hit a lot of routines that we weren’t even getting that regularly in practice, which is really encouraging.”

Although the Illini victory was reassuring, Hayasaki said there is always room for improvement.

“We did win, but had a few rough spots,” Hayasaki said. “Our best event from last year, the pommel horse, didn’t go as well as it should have, with the exception of Ben Newman’s win, and I think we can do better on the floor and on vaulting. There’s definitely room to improve, especially because I know the talent is there.”