Gymnastics: Men eager to redeem

By Mike Czapar

What do Brad Pitt and the No. 1 Illinois men’s gymnastics team have in common? They are both on the rebound. Although no one from the Illini was ever married to Jennifer Aniston, the squad will be working just as hard to bounce back from its first loss of the season this Saturday when they take on No. 13 Temple.

The Illini hit the road for Philadelphia, hoping to improve upon their last two performances that have been somewhat disappointing. This road trip marks the last time the Illini will travel until the Big Ten Championships in late March.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said the Illini had several improvements this week at practice and expects to see much cleaner routines at this weekend’s competition.

“The guys were much more aware and intense getting back into training this week,” Hayasaki said. “We want to see consistency and execution at this next meet, and we want to really challenge ourselves to raise the bar. It’s time to start pulling it together, and I think you’re going to see a much better team this week.”

Despite being ranked well below the Illini in the most recent GymInfo poll, Temple does have some very talented individual performers, including 2004 All-American senior Nyika White, as well as some talented underclassmen.

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Hayasaki said the Owls are not necessarily a weak team, but have just faced adversity and have some excellent performers.

“Nyika White is a runner-up on the rings at last year’s NCAA Championships and no doubt one of the best ring guys in the country,” Hayasaki said. “They (Temple) have had some injury problems, but they still have some pretty decent all-around gymnasts and specialists.”

Junior Adam Pummer said last weekend’s loss was somewhat of a wake-up call for the Illini, and the team is looking forward to competing this weekend.

“A lot of guys were really eager to get back in the gym to get ready for our next competition,” Pummer said. “Not a lot of guys are really talking about it (eagerness), but you can really see it in their actions that they are ready to compete again. We did a lot more routines in practice this week, and guys were putting a lot more pressure on themselves to perform -which is good.”

Springless Illini

As the Illini enter this weekend’s competition they will be without junior Justin Spring, who will be competing for the National Team in Long Island, N.Y., at the 2005 American Cup. Spring will be competing individually for team USA on the high bar, as there is no team competition at the American Cup.

The individual nature of the competition will relieve some stress for Spring, but the nature of the meet adds another element.

“In some ways it’s less nerve-racking because your teammates aren’t there depending on you, but it’s also a little more nerve-racking because it’s a bigger meet,” Spring said. “You’re a big platform, and everybody is basically watching you, which is intimidating, but it should be a good experience.”

Spring said he is looking forward to competing on an international level.

“I’m just really excited,” Spring said. “Since I’m competing individually and there’s no team competition, I think I can say it would be nice to bring something home.”