Men’s gymnastics holds high hopes for Invitational

Sophomore Andres Savedra performs on the parallel bars in the gymnastics meet against Penn State on 16 Feb 2008 at Huff Hall. Dean Santarinala

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Sophomore Andres Savedra performs on the parallel bars in the gymnastics meet against Penn State on 16 Feb 2008 at Huff Hall. Dean Santarinala

By Daniel Johnson

An escape from Champaign may come as a relief for the men’s gymnastics team this weekend.

For the second time this season, the Illini will take to the road for a team-invitational format meet against some of the top-ranked competition in the country at this weekend’s Pacific Coast Classic in Oakland, Calif.

Illinois has fared much better away from Huff Hall this year, beating Ohio State in Columbus and taking second at the Windy City Invite. The Illini have lost both of this season’s home meets in disappointing fashion.

“We had our last (home) meet won, we just fell apart at the end and had little mistakes here and there,” senior Chris Silcox said of Illinois’ finish last weekend versus Penn State. “It’s the inability to put it together right at the end that got us, but it will be nice to go on the road. I kind of like scaring teams on their home turf.”

While no team will technically be at home this weekend, Illinois will face Stanford for a second time this season. The Cardinals may be a team the Illini have already made an impression on; at the Windy City Invite, Illinois finished second only to then-No. 1 Stanford by 7.1 points.

Stanford regained the No. 1 ranking this week in the GymInfo Men’s National Rankings, supplanting Penn State after a convincing 16-point win against No. 10 Nebraska last week.

In addition to the Cardinals, No. 5 Illinois will be facing three of the country’s other top-six teams this weekend, in Oklahoma, California and Michigan. No. 11 Iowa will represent the sixth and final team to attend.

“It’s a lot to take in,” senior Ross Bradley said of the abundance of talent that will be at the Classic. “But I think this week, more than any week, we’ve been concentrating more on ourselves. We can’t worry about what other teams and everybody else is doing.”

Bradley said the expectations he has put on himself the past few weeks has “gotten to him some,” and the pressure to perform consistently is now something that the team is learning to deal with.

“When you can’t perform consistently, things do wear on you some,” he said. “You think, ‘What’s going on, why can’t I do this?’ But that’s why we have been working with ourselves mentally so much – so we can be ready for situations like these.”

The mental experience involved in facing elite competition is an aspect that head coach Yoshi Hayasaki expects his team to draw upon heavily this weekend as the Illini vie for another strong road finish.

“I think, seeing (the team), they feel that they can compete against these teams,” Hayasaki said on Wednesday. “That’s how they felt against Penn State, and that’s how I expect them to compete against the competition this weekend.”