Illini break records, fall to Japan All-Stars

Illinois gymnast Justin Spring prepares to compete on the parallel bars Feb. 12 at Huff Hall. Online Poster

Illinois gymnast Justin Spring prepares to compete on the parallel bars Feb. 12 at Huff Hall. Online Poster

By Mike Czapar

The No. 2 Illinois men’s gymnastics team took second place on Saturday, finishing behind a talented group of eight Japanese gymnasts known as the Japan All-Stars. Despite chalking up a new team record score of 223.400, the Illini were edged by the All-Stars. Iowa came in third with a 219.025.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki was pleased with Illinois’ score and liked the high level of competition the All-Stars brought to Huff Hall.

“I think it was a very good, competitive dual meet between Illinois and Japan,” Hayasaki said. “Overall I think we had a very good meet, and I think our performance (Saturday night) was something we can be proud of. We’ve been waiting for a good team score to come up, and I think we did that (Saturday night).”

Illinois was led by its trio of 2004 All-Americans – juniors Justin Spring and Adam Pummer and senior Ben Newman – all of whom took first place on individual events.

Pummer took the vault title, tying a career-high and school record with a 9.65. Spring and Newman added individual titles to their growing collections, winning the high bar and pommel horse, respectively.

Also breaking records Saturday was freshman Tyler Yamauchi, who achieved a career-high and school record 9.850 on the rings. Yamauchi took first in the event, a spot he has become increasingly familiar with.

Newman said the team score was encouraging, but the Illini’s main goal for Saturday was consistency and improvement.

“I think (consistency) was more important than getting our team high score,” Newman said. “We had one of our better hit percentages tonight and guys are starting to show a lot of improvement.”

The Illini strengthened their vault rotation with Spring competing for the first time this season. He was previously held back by a nagging high ankle sprain. Spring wasted no time and came in second behind teammate Pummer with a 9.550.

Spring was glad to be competing more and hopes to increase his participation next week with a possible floor routine.

“(Vault participation) was good,” Spring said. “I took a step, but I didn’t make any major mistakes in my first time competing this season. I need to work on some floor routines this week at practice, but hopefully I’ll be competing soon in the all-around.”

Saturday’s meet marked the first time Illinois has hosted an international meet since the early ’80s.

Hayasaki said it was beneficial for the Illini to compete with a team as talented as the All-Stars and has a lot of respect for their worthy opponent.

“They’re a strong team; they’re a select group of the best guys from collegiate teams in the country (Japan),” Hayasaki said. “I thought they were very solid all around, and I thought they performed their best at this meet tonight.”

The Illini will continue to seek the top spot as they prepare for Illinois-Chicago next weekend at Huff.