UI gymnasts prepare for Penn State

By Daniel Johnson

It’s been here before but not under these circumstances.

Illinois will be facing its second No. 1-ranked team this year when defending national champion Penn State arrives Saturday for a dual meet against the No. 5-ranked Illini.

Illinois faced Stanford earlier this year, as well as Michigan and Ohio State last year, all as top-ranked opponents and with mixed results.

But as senior Michael Boyer knows, the past three weeks have done a lot, both mentally and physically, to prepare the team.

“We have a brand new mentality,” Boyer said on Thursday. “It’s really refreshing to have this confidence that we do. How to react when things don’t go well, how to have a good day every day; we’re training ourselves to believe we are going to be the 2008 National Champions. The motivation and energy is at a level that I’ve never seen before.”

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    Boyer credited this mentality to the team’s decision to bring in a sports psychologist, who helped players establish a mental edge that was previously lacking. The session consequently helped with their physical performance as well.

    “You can’t go into a meet not physically prepared, just like you can’t go into one not mentally prepared,” Boyer said.

    From a physical standpoint, those on the team who did not attend the Winter Cup Challenge last week in Las Vegas participated in “Routine Week ’08.”

    “We did so many routines that really built our endurance up and our confidence up,” freshman Daniel Ribeiro said about the increased physical work load last week.

    For head coach Yoshi Hayasaki, the challenge is finding the extent to which he can push his team without hurting anyone. Hayasaki wanted his team to push as hard as it could last week in preparation for the Nittany Lions, as players will need every edge that they can get against the top-scoring team in the country.

    “It’s hard to draw that line,” Hayasaki said. “Especially in this sport, it’s a lot of trusting the athletes and the coaches to know when to stop.”

    Even with their struggles against top-ranked teams in the past, the Illini’s mental edge and physical training will be tested this weekend more than it has all year. It will hardly be an easy task, but the team’s positive mentality is certainly more than evident when talking to the players.

    “We definitely have the ability to beat them,” sophomore Luke Stannard said. “We wouldn’t be surprised at all to come out with the win.”