Team pulls out victory after slow start



By Daniel Johnson

With its final meet of the season, Illinois was able to cap off a late-season run with a win over Iowa and Minnesota in a three-team meet in Minneapolis.

While the team will gladly take the win after losing to Minnesota at Huff Hall earlier this year, it was less important than the fact that Illinois was able to recover from a slow start to the meet. The Illini were able to find their bearings after a mediocre showing in the meet’s first two events, floor exercise and pommel horse, and came away with a victory through a consistently good showing in the rest of the meet.

“We started off not-so-hot but we were able to finish really strongly with our last three events, and that’s something we haven’t been able to do all season,” senior Tyler Yamauchi said Monday. “We’ve been able to start off good and still somehow collapse at the end. This just shows the confidence that our team has now and how much more we have grown throughout the season.”

The team’s confidence manifested itself in individual event wins in five of the six events in addition to senior Wes Haagensen’s title in the all-around competition. The Illini also took team titles in four of the six events, highlighted by the team placing five of the top-seven spots in parallel bars.

Although the team had its struggles early in the season, it had talked them down in early meets, pointing out that it was more concerned with peaking in the latter portions of the season.

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With four consecutive wins and three weeks of very good hit percentage with their routines, the team is confident that it is ready for the Big Ten Championships in two weeks.

“I think that everyone’s confidence has gotten to the point to where they know that they can hit routines,” Haagensen said. “For the most part, I think that everyone is ready to go.”

The Illini’s late-season charge may be due in part to the team’s added depth this year. Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki has had the luxury of having enough gymnasts to step in if he chose to rest gymnasts during meets, something he did last week at Illinois-Chicago. The squad’s ability to replace resting athletes has helped those with nagging injuries recover and help ensure athletes weren’t getting too fatigued.

“I was able to give the guys that were hurt (time to) recuperate and time to go through treatment,” Hayasaki said. “In the meantime, when those guys are out, other people stepped in and got to compete and still did a good job.”

Hayasaki and the team will have until April 2 to prepare for the Big Ten Championships before leaving Champaign for State College, Pa. Given the team’s recent momentum and health, Hayasaki likes his chances at the conference championships even though it will be held at Penn State, the only Big Ten team Illinois has not beaten this year.

“This is one of the teams that will have gone through one of the best preparations this week for Big Tens,” Hayasaki added.