Seniors saying goodbye to Huff



By Daniel Johnson

And with a blink of an eye, they are seniors, at their last home meet.

The 2004 recruiting class of Michael Boyer, Ross Bradley, Jon Drollinger, Wes Haagensen, Chris Silcox and Tyler Yamauchi will participate in a meet it can hardly believe is now here.

The seniors were intense as ever with their preparation for Michigan, in hopes of avenging their loss to the Wolverines from earlier in the year, and because it has become more than habit for them in their four years time.

But with Saturday’s meet at Huff Hall looming for the six seniors, they were able reminisce throughout the week about what they remembered from their time together.

“It feels like yesterday I was a freshman and saying, ‘Oh, I’ll never be in that position, it’s so long from now,'” Bradley, an All-American on high bar in 2006, said. “Now, here I am with chest hair and graduating.”

One of the most accomplished classes in the history of Illinois gymnastics, the 2004 class holds 11 All-American titles between the six gymnasts, highlighted by Yamauchi’s three and Haagensen’s six.

“Looking back, nothing was better than sharing a common goal with those people, especially with the six guys we’ve had,” said Boyer, a two-time Academic All-Big Ten Athlete. “We had such a big recruiting class and we all got along so well; it’s been a blessing.”

When looking back at their time together, things outside of the gym will be what the group will remember as much as participating together inside it.

Their meet against the Wolverines will be the culmination of their time together and their last chance to enjoy their time as gymnasts in Champaign – and their time together outside of the gym.

“Coming in here freshman year at orientation having it be real awkward … ” Drollinger said.

Boyer interrupts him and reminds Drollinger and Bradley of their freshmen fashion faux pas.

“You two guys wearing jean shorts,” he says.

“Yeah,” Bradley said with a hint of humility. “I wore jean shorts.”

“Ross and Jon were from 1992,” Yamauchi interrupts again with a cackling, full-body laugh.

Aside from wardrobe malfunctions, there were rumblings at Kenney Gym circulating throughout this week of more shenanigans afoot later on in their freshman year, this time with Texas Hold ‘Em.

“Our freshman year we used to play a lot of cards,” Haagensen said, laughing at what he knew was coming. “Somehow we had all these peppers and we were betting them. We were able to set the cards up so every time Chris (Silcox) would get a really good hand, like three jacks or something, and he would lose on the last card. It kind of got out of hand when it got to where it was six or seven times in a row.”

Silcox, still a bit bitter from the other five gymnasts’ prank, was beside himself when speaking on the issue.

“I don’t care to elaborate too much on that,” Silcox said. “If they want to say whatever they want, let them. They were being … I don’t know what name you can put in the paper.”

Even though Silcox caught the brunt of the episode, he still describes his five classmates as “brothers” and what he would “miss that the most” when he graduated.

“Those are the things that we’re going to remember though, the little, stupid things,” Haagensen said. “Those are the good times.”

The six will get their last chance to enjoy each other – inside the gym – Saturday when the team will be seeking retribution against a Wolverine team that beat the Illini earlier this season in a meet in California.

“Even though we lost to them at the Pacific Coast Classic, we know where (Michigan is) at,” Drollinger said. “All of us, not just the seniors, are going to make sure this is memorable.”

Yamauchi echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“They beat us at Pacific Coast, but we really beat ourselves there more,” Yamauchi said. “They never really stood out to me as a good team, and I am 100 percent confident going into this meet that we can take them. I’ll take a lot of pride in beating them.”

If the team makes good on Yamauchi’s prediction, the victory against the Wolverines would add to the long list of memories that the seniors will be able to look back on when they blink again and find themselves even further in their lives.