Men hope to secure back-to-back Big Ten titles

Ted Brown competes at Huff Hall on Saturday, March 12, 2005. Illinois won 221.550-209.450 over the University of Illinois at Chicago. Online Poster

Ted Brown competes at Huff Hall on Saturday, March 12, 2005. Illinois won 221.550-209.450 over the University of Illinois at Chicago. Online Poster

By Mike Czapar

The No. 3 men’s gymnastics team will hit the road over spring break, aiming to defend their Big Ten title at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., March 25-26.

The Illini won their conference meet last year at Huff Hall and will rely on their mix of experience and young talent to repeat as champions this year.

The Illini finished the season undefeated against conference teams, but anticipate a tough competition at this year’s meet.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said the Big Ten is as strong as it always is this year and is looking forward to seeing Illinois match up with some of the top gymnastics squads.

“The Big Ten is always competitive, especially right now with Ohio State being the number one team in the nation and posting some big scores,” Hayasaki said. “Penn State always puts up big scores, and Michigan has an advantage because they’re hosting. It’s going to be a good meet.”

Although the Illini still have several members of last year’s championship squad, the team has a completely different look and features several underclassmen.

Junior Adam Pummer said the team is happy to be identified with last year’s squad, but things have changed significantly due to personnel changes.

“Coming in being defending Big Ten champions definitely puts a little more pressure on you, but our team this season is a lot different than last year’s team,” Pummer said. “We have a lot of freshmen competing, and I think our opponents recognize that we’re just a different squad than last year.”

The team competition kicks off the meet on Friday, and the finals for the individual competition takes place the next day. In order to compete for an event title, athletes must score in the top eight during the team competition. The individual titles have no bearing on the team competition, so Friday’s scores alone will determine the Big Ten champion team.

Junior Justin Spring said that although the Big Ten meet is important, the Illini are focused on using the meet to prepare for the NCAA Championships, which takes place in early April.

“We won Big Tens last year, but we didn’t end up winning nationals – so that’s really what we’re focused on this year,” Spring said. “This is the time of the season we’ve been working for all year, and I think Big Tens is going to help us shoot for our goal at nationals.”