Illini optimistic despite overall defeat

By Jeff LaBelle

He may be the tallest man on the team at 6’1″, but freshman Luke Stannard’s performance was even bigger and better than he is.

Stannard, seeing the first action of his collegiate career, threw himself a house-warming party at the men’s gymnastics meet Saturday, igniting the Huff Hall crowd on his only event of the night – his specialty, the pommel horse.

“Like I told Luke right afterwards, there’s nothing harder in gymnastics than being the anchorman, the last guy on the pommel horse,” said junior Wes Haagenson, whose 8.550 on the pommel tied Stannard’s score for the night’s team-high. “For his debut, he did an excellent job. He really stepped it up.”

Despite Stannard’s debut though, Ohio State performed well enough to garner a 214.700-211.050 victory over Illinois. Again, inconsistency was detrimental.

In the first few meets of the season, inconsistent scores on the pommel horse had been sore spots on the team scorecard. And although head coach Yoshi Hayaski is still concerned about improving his team’s consistency in the pommel horse, parallel bar and high bar, the emergence of Stannard and freshman Chad Weist, who registered three personal bests for the night, helps lighten the load.

“You can’t be upset with how these young guys competed,” Hayasaki said. “We competed very well – our vaulting team was one of the best and our rings team competed very well. Somehow, though, we’re going to have to start building up our consistency, especially in our last three events.”

Luke Stannard survived his initiation, but even before he took to the horse, the crowd had seen stellar routines on the floor exercise with four scores landing above a 9.000. Team co-captain Michael Boyer, after sticking the final run of his exercise, pumped his fists into the air and shouted toward the stands in feverish emotion. His teammates, who watched his routine and shouted in chorus, were on the same page.

“I love that energy,” Haagensen said. “There’s nothing better than competing here at Huff. It definitely helps motivate me when the crowd’s right there with us, and tonight they were. It’s always great to have a crowd like this.”

Haagensen’s energy showed in his all-around score, a 53.350. It was good enough for a first place all-around finish in the meet, and up to par with what his coach expects from him in tough matchups like Saturday’s.

“I thought he had it today – his parallel bar routine was his only miss,” Hayasaki said. “Usually that’s a good event for him, and once he starts hitting it, he could really crank up some good scores.”

Tyler Yamauchi scored above a 9.000 on three events, floor exercise, rings and vault, to help lead the Illini. Jon Drollinger, on his only event, the rings, posted a 9.200.

“Ohio State was a great team,” Yamauchi said. “We had a few weak events that made it hard to compete with them. But our whole mentality right now is that we’re so much deeper than we have been. And now we have two weeks off to perfect our mistakes.”

Next weekend, Yamauchi, Haagensen and sophomore Chris Lung will travel to Las Vegas for the Winter Cup. The rest of the team has two weeks until they travel to Penn State Feb. 17.