Illini gear up for showdown

By Mike Czapar

After the men’s basketball team finishes off Minnesota Saturday, fans will have just enough time to catch a quick nap before heading out to watch the other Illinois athletic program in the national spotlight: men’s gymnastics. This Saturday is student night at Huff Hall, where any Illinois or Parkland student can get in free to watch as the No. 2 Illinois men’s gymnastics team takes on No. 1 Ohio State in what promises to be a battle of gymnastics powerhouses.

The two squads have been swapping the No. 1 and No. 2 spots for the last couple weeks, and this weekend’s competition will likely determine who deserves to sit in the most prestigious spot in collegiate athletics.

The Illini are coming off a strong showing at the Windy City Invitation, as well as a victory at a dual meet with Minnesota, and aim to open their season at home with a big win. Despite being ranked ahead of Illinois, the Buckeyes came in second to the Illini at their previous meeting at the Windy City Invitational.

Junior Anthony Russo said the Illini are looking forward to competing at home, and are excited to open the home season with such a big meet.

“Competing at home is completely different than competing on the road,” Russo said. “It’s a huge advantage to be at home in front of your fans, and this weekend will be a great way to start at home. It’ll be a good test for us to see where we’re at.”

Much like the Illini, Ohio State has a mix of strong returning upperclassmen as well as a talented freshmen class. The Buckeyes returned three All-Americans and eight letter-winners and feature rookie DJ Bucher whose parallel bar score is currently the best in the nation.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki recognizes the talent of Ohio State and thinks fans who attend the meet will definitely see some good competition.

“Ohio State is a really good team – they have a lot of returning talent, as well as some good incoming freshmen,” Hayasaki said. “It’s going to be a showdown. We haven’t shown our capabilities yet, and I think if we perform well this weekend you’re going to see some really great routines.”

Junior Adam Plummer said the Illini have been focused at practice all week and that consistency will likely determine the winner of this weekend’s match up.

“We’re a pretty strong team on every event, and we’ve been getting ready mentally for this meet all week,” Plummer said. “We’ve been looking at our faults from the Minnesota meet and working to improve in the areas where we were down. We feel like if we hit our routines we should come out on top.”

The 6-0 Illini will look to capitalize on the favorable scoring that typically comes with competing at home. Last week Ohio State posted some of the highest scores in the nation at home, which helped move them ahead of the Illini in the polls.

Plummer said because Illinois has not had the opportunity to compete at home yet, the squad is eager to compete at Huff.

“It’s a huge advantage for us to be at home,” Plummer said. “The crowd usually has a lot to do with the judge’s decision. The home team always gets more of a response, and I think it will really make a difference in the scores.”

Hayasaki said he hopes the Illini can build off their previous performances and thrive in the home gym.

“I think we’re going to really show our talent this weekend and show more consistency at home,” Hayasaki said. “I think we’re going to get out there and crank out some really high scores.”

The action kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday night.