Fan-friendly Mixed Pairs exhibition kicks off men’s, women’s gymnastic seasons

Justin Spring competes Friday on the parallel bars at the Mixed Pairs Exhibition at Huff Hall. Josh Birnbaum

Justin Spring competes Friday on the parallel bars at the Mixed Pairs Exhibition at Huff Hall. Josh Birnbaum

By Erin Foley

The men’s and women’s gymnastics teams opened its seasons Friday with the 20th annual Mixed Pairs exhibition meet. In front of 763 fans and student-athlete judges from various Illini teams, the men and women joined together to compete against one another. The senior-freshman tandem of Anthony Russo and Julie Crall and senior-junior pair of Adam Pummer and Cara Pomeroy tied for first place with a score 29.8.

The team of Pomeroy and Pummer received no lower than a 9.8 on any of their four apparatuses. The teams’ best three scores of the four events counted toward its team total.

“You’re always anxious to get the season started and anxious to perform and see how they can respond,” head men’s coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. “It’s a great way to get the jitteriness off and for them to get comfortable getting in front of the public, that’s why I have had this competition for the last 20 years.”

The freshman-junior duo of Chris Lung and Danye Botterman finished in third place with a score of 29.75, edging out freshmen Michael Boyer and Ursula Orozco who had a 29.65.

Six gymnasts received perfect 10.0s from the judges, including Botterman (floor exercise), sophomores Krystal Melcarke (floor exercise) and Michelle McGrady (floor exercise), Crall (balance beam) and seniors Justin Spring (high bar) and Pummer (floor exercise).

With a team of nearly half freshmen, women’s head coach Bob Starkell said he saw this meet as somewhat of a tryout for the rest of the season, and specifically the first away meet on Jan. 6, 2006 in Gainesville, Fla.

“Everything in practice is usually kind of the same, but when you go into a meet, things are different,” Starkell said. “So you usually have to use this as an opportunity to see who can perform under a little bit more pressure.”

Eight freshmen for both the men’s and women’s teams competed in their first meet as Illini, with a great deal of success.

“I think we’re adjusting fast and well,” Crall said. “It’s obviously hard having a young team, but coming in, I think we’ll pull it together; I think we showed it by having a good start.”

Helping to make the freshmen feel at ease was the laid-back format and positive reinforcement from the rest of their teammates, especially the seniors. Pummer said he was particularly impressed with Lung and his performances on pommel horse and high bar.

“The four seniors have been amazing, they’ve been really great leaders,” Lung said. “They give you tips, everything. They make you feel like home.”

Hayasaki said that in this year’s Mixed Pairs he saw the most consistent performance from his team, highlighting what they have been focusing on in practice. The men will continue its season Jan. 14, 2006 in the Windy City Invite. Hayasaki said the men will need to work on putting together the required elements, which were not used in Saturday’s exhibition meet.

For the women, many of their routines have increased difficulty, especially on floor exercise.

“We need to work on the little things like stuck landings,” Crall said, “And then the big things like confidence, just knowing you’re going to hit your routines.”