Team searches for ideal lineup



By Daniel Johnson

Even with the season coming to a close, the men’s gymnastics team is still looking for the right lineup.

For the second time this season, head coach Yoshi Hayasaki will be resting some of his overworked gymnasts in favor of finding other contributors for the impending Big Ten and NCAA championships.

Hayasaki said Wednesday he will likely be sitting all-around gymnasts Wes Haagensen and Paul Ruggeri this week against the UIC Flames, as he did against the Iowa Hawkeyes on March 1, to give them time to recover from fatigue.

“I have a pretty good idea, but there are one or two spots (in the lineup) that I am still working on,” Hayasaki said.

Tentatively expected to make their return to the lineup this weekend are Chad Wiest, Ross Bradley and Andres Saaverda.

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Wiest will be making his dual-meet debut after being out with a hairline fracture in his arm since the Windy City Invitational.

Bradley will be coming back after being out two meets with a sore knee, and Saaverda will round out those returning after sitting out last week as precaution for a sore shoulder and to let seniors have a bigger role in their last home meet.

While injuries are hardly uncommon in gymnastics, it would come as a boon to the team to have the three gymnasts back.

Although Wiest estimated his chances of competing at “about 50 percent,” Hayasaki said he was fairly certain the three will see some time this weekend.

If all three compete, it will help to lessen the challenge of not having Ruggeri and Haagensen. Wiest and Bradley are both former All-Americans, in the floor exercise and high bar, respectively, and Saaverda is a versatile, internationally experienced gymnast who has competed for Ecuador.

“It’s feeling all right; I’m finally getting back into things which is great,” Wiest said Thursday.

“(If the three of us were in) it would definitely help a lot because with Wes and Paul not likely competing, we can fill in some of their spots. But it’s up to the coaches, we’ll see where we’re at when it comes to the meet.”

When Hayasaki rested gymnasts against Iowa, it yielded less than ideal results.

Junior Chris Lung, who was expected to have an important role, suffered a last-second injury to his wrist, and Ruggeri, who was scheduled to rest that week, was pressed into competition with an already less-than complete lineup.

The Illini still managed to come away with a win – but only by .400 points.

Hayasaki said that given his deeper pool of gymnasts available this week, he expects much better results.

“In Iowa, we were not able to fill all the spots; things changed at the last moment,” Hayasaki said.

“This one this weekend, we will be able to fill all the spots – that’s the difference. These guys will be a little more confident; I think that we will see a little bit more consistency even without Paul and Wes.”

Regardless of the lineup, Hayasaki is understandably stressing that his team hits its routines this week.

Last week, the Illini hit 85 percent of their routines, meaning they performed their sets with minimal point deduction from the routine’s starting value.

Hayasaki and the team are expecting to build upon the performance.

The challenge for Illinois will be finding out whether last week was a turning point toward its desired consistency or if its hit percentage was just a one-week anomaly.

“You never really know because the next weekend we might be faltering because we aren’t as confident,” senior Chris Silcox said.

“Once you get to a certain point, though, it seems like every year, you don’t go back from it. As long as we keep our number of hits up, the confidence will be there, even if (our hit percentage) isn’t around 85. We don’t need it to be (at 85 percent) for this meet, we just need it to be in the ballpark.”

After this weekend, the Illini will have one more meet left to fine tune everything before Big Ten Championships, but Hayasaki said that this weekend will be a crucial factor in determining his final lineup for the remainder of the season.