Gymnastics squeezes out victory at home

By Mike Czapar

Sometimes great teams need a bit of an eye-opener at some point in the season to help raise the intensity level at practice. The No. 2 men’s gymnastics squad’s eyes are wide open after they squeaked out a victory against No. 5 Penn State Saturday night at Huff Hall.

The two squads went back and forth throughout the meet’s six rotations, with the Illini eventually handing Penn State its first loss of the year by a score of 221.825-221.350.

The Illini began the meet strong as junior Adam Pummer and senior Ben Newman took individual titles on the floor and the pummel horse, respectively. However, junior Penn State standout Luis Vargas responded, taking first on the rings, the parallel bars, the all-around and the high bar – a title he shared with Illinois junior Justin Spring.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said he was glad the Illini pulled out a victory, but noted the struggles Illinois had with consistency.

“It was rough,” Hayasaki said. “Coming back from the Winter Cup from last weekend, I think the guys coasted a little bit this week. Some events like parallel bars and floor where we are strong, we could have done a lot better today. I think the important thing is that we learned we’re going to have to really focus on our training this week. We really want to make sure that we don’t have the misses like we did today.”

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    In addition to the team’s three event titles, several Illini notched solid scores. Junior Ted Brown and freshman Tyler Yamauchi both put up a 9.550 to tie for third on the pommel horse, and freshman Jon Drollinger and senior Nick Hand both received career highs on the rings.

    Despite not performing to the team’s full potential, the Illini showed its depth by still coming away with a win.

    “That (team depth) is definitely something we’ve never had before,” Pummer said. “The fact that we had a really low hit percentage and we were still able to beat a Penn State team ranked in the top five is a really great feeling for us. It really shows us how good we can be if we all hit.”

    Spring said the Illini will use last weekend’s meet to help the team build off of and to kick up the intensity at practice this week.

    “We’re going to step it up big time,” Spring said. “We’re going to away meets next week, and we’re not going to be in front of a home crowd. It’s going to be a really intense week in the gym training.”

    Hayasaki said although Illinois had too many mistakes, it is important to always focus on the positive aspects of competition.

    “Knowing that we didn’t do as well as we wanted to, but that we still were able to come out with a win, I think it’s a confidence booster,” Hayasaki said. “We realized that when we do put together routines – that meets like this will not be a close competition at all.”

    The Illini will hit the road the next two weekends, traveling to both Oakland and Philadelphia before their next home meet.