Men without top performers head to Iowa

By Daniel Johnson

This week there will be a considerable change of pace for the men’s gymnastics team.

After two weeks of demoralizing finishes, including a last-event loss to Penn State and a subpar finish at the Pacific Coast Classic, Illinois will travel to Iowa City to take on Iowa. In the Hawkeyes, the Illini will face a team that is averaging approximately 13 fewer points this season. All of this will come on the heels of facing Penn State and Stanford, the two teams that have held the No. 1 ranking in the last two GymInfo polls.

In addition to the change of competition, Illinois will, in all likelihood, be without two of its top performers, Wes Haagensen and Paul Ruggeri, on Saturday.

“I was a little bit concerned about the all-around gymnasts like Paul Ruggeri and Wesley Haagensen,” head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said Tuesday. “They’ve been competing in every meet, in all events throughout the season, and we still have another half. For these guys to stay healthy and come back strong toward the end of the season, there are times that we have to give them a little bit of a break.”

Hayasaki’s decision assures there will be other gymnasts that have not played as crucial a role throughout the season who will have the opportunity to do so against the Hawkeyes this weekend. Gymnasts like Chris Lung, who will likely compete in five of the six events this weekend, will step into a leading role for the Illini this weekend.

“I think that a lot of people are excited because some people who usually don’t compete are going to have a chance to step up and show their routines,” the junior said.

“Some other people just have to do more events and will have to do more for the team.”

Hayasaki said that the decision to rest Haagensen and Ruggeri was easier considering his team’s opponent this weekend. But even though Iowa is the lowest-scoring team in the Big Ten this year, senior Tyler Yamauchi said that the team isn’t taking this weekend lightly.

“A lot of their guys are banged up,” Yamauchi said. “(Iowa) might not have as much talent as the other Big Ten teams, and competition-wise they shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. But then again, Minnesota (whom we lost to) wasn’t supposed to be so much of a hassle too. I told the guys on the team not to take this meet too lightly.”

If the Illini do face a greater challenge in Iowa than expected, Haagensen said it would not be easy for him to watch from the sidelines. The senior has been arguably Illinois’ best performer of the year, and while he does appreciate the time off to recuperate, he would not willingly stand idle if the meet came down to the wire.

“If that’s the case, it’s going to be really tough,” the senior said. “I can’t imagine, as a competitor, what I would do. It would be really hard to sit and watch something like that happen.”