Illini stumble, take second

By Mike Czapar

Ann Arbor, Mich. – The No. 3 men’s gymnastics team has seen its share of injuries this season, and Saturday’s Big Ten Championships at Michigan proved to be no different. After freshman Wes Haagensen injured his ankle during warm-ups, the Illini struggled during the first two rotations, but pulled out a second place finish thanks to some gutsy performances and a school record-breaking team ring performance.

After the first rotation, the Illini found themselves in last place, but battled back and contended with Ohio State during the last rotation for the Big Ten title.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said the meet was very emotional for the Illini, but was proud of the team’s determination to not give up.

“Tonight was an emotional rollercoaster for everyone,” Hayasaki said. “I think it was one of the toughest fought performances of this team. To come back from starting in last place after parallel bars, and to come back event by event and have a chance to win it at the end really tells the story about this team.”

After the last place finish in the parallel bars, the Illini made up some ground on the high bar and floor thanks to strong routines from juniors Adam Pummer and Justin Spring, and career high performances on both events from freshman Chris Silcox.

Spring’s strong showing throughout the meet earned him second place in the all around competition in only his second time competing in the all around this season.

During the fourth and fifth rotation, the Illini came out with a vengeance on the pommel horse and the rings, and jumped into title contention with Ohio State entering the final event.

The Illini were led by on the pommel horse by senior two-time defending Big Ten Pommel horse champion Ben Newman, as well as solid routines from junior Ted Brown and senior Peter Shostchuk.

Shostchuk said the comeback that started on the pommel horse was a sign of how talented Illinois is, and that the team will use this meet to prepare for nationals.

“The team got together and we just did what we had to at the end,” Shostchuk said. “We were in last place at the beginning and we finished second, and that shows what we’re capable of as a team. It was a tough loss, but now guys are going to be a little pissed off and ready to work hard in the gym.”

Following the pommel horse, the Illini set a school record on the rings thanks to outstanding routines from Newman, Haagensen and freshman Tyler Yamauchi. Although the whole team performed well on the rings, no routine was more gutsy than the injured Haagensen’s school record setting 9.850. In a Kerri Strung fashion, Haagensen stuck his dismount as he winced in pain from the landing.

Haagensen said he was disappointed and frustrated from his injury and wanted to contribute as much as possible during the meet.

“It was just really frustrating to get hurt and not compete in the all-around, and that really bothered me because I felt like I couldn’t contribute to the team in the way that I could have,” Haagensen said. “It was a meet that the team could have won, but we did the best we could on the last three events and we did a great job on those events.”