Illini hope for ‘big score’ in Iowa City

By Erin Foley

The Illinois men’s gymnastics team will take on No. 8 Iowa on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Iowa City, hoping to put up a team score everyone is pleased with. With just two meets before the Big Ten Championships on March 24, head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said he is looking for a “big score” before the all-important meet.

After falling to No. 6 in this week’s GymInfo National Rankings from its pre-season ranking of No. 2, Hayasaki said it is a matter of all 12 competitors “hitting” on the same day.

“I would like to see all 12 men come up and say, ‘Yes, I did the routine that I’m supposed to, I performed the way I wanted to perform,'” Hayasaki said. “And I really have not had a competition where everyone comes out at the end and says, ‘Yes, it was a good competition for all of us, not just a few guys.'”

It’s a mystery, he said, as to why the entire team cannot all “hit together.” But with improved practices and a greater effort, Hayasaki said he hopes the time is near.

“And I trust this team, they are very capable of doing that,” he said. “But at the same time, we can’t wait too much more. I’d like to see us put together a big score before we go into the Big Ten Championship.”

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That chance centers on Sunday’s performance in Iowa City at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the site of the Big Ten Championships. He called this meet a “significant” because it will give the team “the feeling of the arena.”

“We are ready to start to elevate our performance level, and hopefully we’ll post some good scores,” Hayasaki said. “We’re not just going out there to beat Iowa; once again, we’re fighting for our goals, fighting for our performance.”

The last time Illinois faced Iowa on Feb. 18, it posted a season-high score of 211.850, along with season-bests on rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar. Iowa is led by senior all-arounder and Feb. 18 Gymnast of the Week Michael Reavis. Reavis took fifth in last week’s Pacific Coast Classic in Oakland, Calif., and posed an all-around score of 51.650. Illinois sophomore all-arounder Wesley Haagensen posted a career-high 53.700 in Chicago. Haagensen was also named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week on Wednesday.

Last weekend in Chicago against UIC, the Illini swept all event titles for the first time all season. A major improvement for the team was its season-high pommel horse score of 34.100. All season, pommel horse has continued to be the Illini’s toughest event.

But in Chicago, freshman Chris Lung turned in a career-best 9.000 to take home the event title. Senior Ted Brown finished in third with an 8.550. But Lung still thinks there is room for improvement.

“Pommel horse is still struggling,” he said. “I hit, but Teddy didn’t. Once me and Teddy both hit, our score is going to go up two points, possibly.”

After missing last weekend’s meet, senior Justin Spring and sophomore Chris Silcox will return to the Illinois lineup. Spring said that while Illinois’ ranking is lower than in past years, he said that if that’s the way it has to be to come out on top, then “that’s fine.” He admitted, though, that it has been frustrating getting good scores but not top performances.

“It’s just frustrating knowing we have this potential to be great, but we haven’t hit that,” Spring said. “I just feel like that’s been the story all year.”

Haagensen named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week

Sophomore Wesley Haagensen was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week on Wednesday after a career-high 53.700 in the all-around in last weekend’s meet against UIC. Haagensen, the 2005 Big Ten Rookie of the Year, had a career-high on floor (9.400), while also scoring season-highs on high bar (8.700), still rings (9.200) and pommel horse (8.600).

Haagensen, who was surprised by his first Big Ten award, said it was an honor because it was for the whole Big Ten.