Men look for victory in rematch

By Erin Foley

After falling to the then-No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes by a score of 211.650 to 210.500 at the Windy City Invitational on Jan. 14, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team will get another chance in only the third meet of the season on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio at 6 p.m.

No. 3 Illinois (5-1, 4-1 Big Ten) trails only Ohio State and No. 2 Oklahoma, last year’s national champion, in the GymInfo National Rankings.

“We don’t see Oklahoma until NCAA’s, so this is the big 1-2 showdown,” senior Justin Spring said. “Windy City, we go 1-2, and they beat us by a small margin. It was the first meet, a lot of mistakes. I feel like either team could do a lot worse and both teams could do a lot better. It’s going to be up in the air; it’s going to be exciting; it’s going to be high energy.”

Gradually regaining its normal lineup due to injuries and returnees from injury, Illinois’ key to defeating Ohio State lies in consistency and pommel horse scoring, head coach Yoshi Hayaskai said.

“I think we are gradually coming back the way we want to be as far as our lineup goes,” Hayasaki said. “It’s not our full lineup yet, but it’s better than in the last couple weeks. So hopefully, that will help, although they are not completely ready.”

Last weekend against Minnesota, the Illini faltered on pommel horse, with three gymnasts falling off the apparatus. Sophomore Wes Haagensen’s score of 8.450 led the Illini, while Illinois is ranked sixth on pommel horse with a score of 33.275. Ohio State sits in the 10th spot with a score of 32.500.

“We felt what we really made a mistake on last week was pommel horse, and our pommel horse team is not that bad,” Hayasaki said. “From that event, making more than three mistakes is not acceptable for this team.”

Since the Illini are closely matched, Hayasaki said, the consistent competitor will take the meet. But the Illini know what they are up against.

“It’s certainly the hardest competition up until Big Ten’s and NCAA’s,” sophomore Chris Silcox said. “I’m just looking to see if we can beat Ohio State at home.”

Spring, though, wants teammates to know that when their hand is raised to signal the start of an event, “you’ve got to know you’re going to hit, you can’t hope that you’re going to hit.”

After winning an impressive three event titles (FX, PB, HB) last weekend, senior Adam Pummer and sophomore Wes Haagensen, who won the vault title at Windy City and the pommel horse title against Minnesota, will also pace the Illini. Haagensen, who underwent shoulder surgery over the summer, has seen limited competition thus far this season, but still has managed to claim four top-three finishes.

One fact not on the Illini’s side is that they have not won a dual meet against the Buckeyes (5-0, 4-0 Big Ten) since 1986.

“It’s always difficult competing at Ohio State, the facilities, judges,” Hayasaki said. “We’ve got a little challenge ahead. But I think going out there, posting good scores and especially beating Ohio State is going to boost our confidence level.”

Back in Champaign

After spending last weekend at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., senior and U.S. National Team member Justin Spring returns to the Illinois lineup.

Spring took part in an international joint training program with the Japanese national team.

“It’s a great training atmosphere; you’re there with the World Championship team,” Spring said of a Japanese team that won gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. “So to come in there and train with them and kind of see where they’re at and judge yourself on what you see them do, that was not just an experience, but kind of an eye-opener.”