Big Ten tourney next for Illini men

 

 

By Daniel Johnson

True to their word, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team feels it has found its peak heading into the Big Ten Championships, just as it had wanted.

“Right now, we’re at a time when we think we can get through our routines pretty easily,” junior Chris Lung said Tuesday. “Big Tens and NCAAs are all about just handling the pressure.”

After an up and down season that has ended on a three-week streak of high routine hit percentages, the team is confident in its ability to compete at, if not win, the Championships.

Even so, others aren’t so sure and are waiting for the veritable crapshoot to begin.

“A funny thing happens when Big Tens (arrive),” head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said, “Not always does the team that had been leading throughout the season win the Big Ten. Someone will surprise you. Some injury factors come into effect, obviously, a little bit of luck, the rotation, it all goes into it.”

Hayasaki may be a realist, but given his team’s talent, he also is an optimist.

“But all in all with the depth we have and our preparedness, I think that is what is important.”

Preparation has been something that has been stressed throughout the season for the team, and all of the mind-numbing and physically draining work for the team seems to finally have taken shape.

“I definitely think that we are the most mentally and physically prepared team, and that’s the attitude we’re taking to this meet,” sophomore Luke Stannard said.

Although the Illini have performed well enough to retain their No. 5 national ranking this week, the trip to Penn State will be another test in what has been a season filled with challenges.

The Nittany Lions will host their sixth event this season, making the Championships a de facto home meet. The six meets are two more than any other team in the country has hosted all season.

Adding to a possible home gym advantage for the Nittany Lions is the fact that the team won the NCAA Championships in the same gym last year.

“Penn State is definitely going to be our No. 1 challenge,” Stannard said. “I’m not going to say that they are going to be our only competition, but they won NCAAs last year in that exact gym. It’s their meet to win in their mind; in our mind its our meet to win.”

The team had the weekend off to prepare for the Championships and the pressure that will be coming with it. To help adjust to the anticipated pressure and nerves, the gymnasts have practiced “team routines” throughout the past two weeks, where a rotation of gymnasts will practice each event in order.

“One thing we’ve been doing is focusing on team routines, which is pretty much like a simulated meet for that event,” Lung said Tuesday. “We put more pressure on everyone doing the routine, try to simulate the actual competition, warm up together; that really helps us to simulate the meet and I think it’s going to help out.”

Even with a win this weekend, the team still has another peak to climb, with the NCAA Championships looming next week.