Illini head to coast

By Mike Czapar

After hopping back into the top spot in the GymnInfo national poll, the No. 1 Illinois men’s gymnastics team will head to the west coast in hopes of improving its 7-0-1 record. The undefeated Illini will be competing at the second-annual Aquafina Pacific Coast Classic in Oakland, Calif.

After winning a close meet against Penn State last weekend, the Illini hit the gym hard this week in preparation for a meet that features some strong teams from the west coast and several strong individuals.

Illinois Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said the Illini look forward to the competition and will benefit from the stricter west coast judging style.

“The judges on the west coast don’t really see us very often, and they don’t know what kind of a team we have and what kind of routines we have,” Hayasaki said. “I think it’s good even though they can be more critical than the judges we’re used to – I think its good for us to get feedback from different types of judges. It’s good for us to have them be very critical, because judges are very critical at Big Ten championships and at NCAA championships.”

The Illini will again look to their combination of experienced upperclassmen, including Big Ten Co-Gymnast of the Week senior Ben Newman, and talented freshmen to put up solid scores this weekend. Newman’s career-high ring performance and pommel horse title in last weekend’s meet earned him the honor.

Newman said he was excited to receive the conference honor and is glad the Illini are back at No. 1.

“It’s cool to be number one, but it’s also a lot of pressure,” Newman said. “When we went into nationals last year, we really felt like people were gunning for us because we had been number one all year. Either way, we just need to hit our routines, and in that regard the ranking doesn’t really mean that much as long as you hit.”

Last year the Pacific Classic donated the proceeds from the meet’s admission to the National Gymnastics Foundation Men’s Scholarship Program, the Men’s Intercollegiate Gymnastics Support Program and other non-profit organizations. The total contribution of $12,561 is to promote various clubs and gymnastics organizations across the country.

Newman said the Illini anticipate a strong showing from some of their opponents, and expect scores to be on the low side.

“Berkley is always a pretty solid team,” Newman said. “They always have a couple real solid gymnasts and a great coaching staff. I think the biggest challenge for us will be the judging. It might be a little bit of an awaking for a couple guys who might not be used to low scores.”

As always, consistency will be the goal for Illinois as they hit the road for the first of two away meets.

“We want to really clean it up from the last meet – get a better hit ratio and basically just keep getting better from here on out,” Newman said.