Illinois men’s gymnastics comes up short in Big Ten Championship, takes 2nd place to Penn State

By Daniel Johnson

Unfortunately for Wes Haagensen, this year’s Big Ten Championship was more of the same for the senior.

Competing in his fourth and final conference championship, Haagensen once again came up short, with Illinois taking second place to Penn State.

“Since it was the last one, we were really trying to end up winning that title. It was a little disappointing because we’ve had such talented teams that have never been able to pull it off,” Haagensen said. “I was proud of us, though, because we still didn’t hit every set and still had our highest score of the year.”

The Illini’s score of 357.300 wasn’t enough to top the Nittany Lions’ total of 360.450. Illinois had trouble early on in the Championships, which may have been the biggest deterrent from it winning a title. After a sub-par start to its first two events, Illinois came back to claim a second-place finish.

“I thought we really came back strong on the last four events,” head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said.

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In Illinois’ floor exercise, sophomore Chad Wiest suffered another setback after sitting out the majority of the year with injuries. On Wiest’s first pass on his first event, the floor, he landed and broke his arm.

“So we were one short in that event, and we had to put people in who hadn’t be competing as much as we would have liked them to be on certain events,” Hayasaki said.

The Illini have been trying to hit at least 80 percent of their routines at all year, and they did so at the Big Ten Championships. It just worked out that Penn State hit approximately 90 percent of their routines.”

“We were three points off, but with the new (scoring system) that’s three missed sets,” freshman Daniel Ribeiro said. “Three more hits and we could have done it.”

Haagensen cited the pressure the team was putting on itself as a reason why it may have come up short in its routine totals. While the team was dealing with pressure all season, it may have ratcheted up more than it had expected for the Championships.

“There was too much pressure, we just needed to relax a little bit,” Haagensen said during practice Tuesday. “We just might have too much pressure on ourselves to train hard and to hit our routines perfectly. Right now (during practice) we’re just working out and having fun. I think we’re going to have to train really hard to stay relaxed and be ourselves.”

Although Illinois came up just short in the team competition, it fared well in the individual championships, taking two of the seven individual conference titles. Haagensen won the high bar and Ribeiro the pommel horse, earning the duo first team All-Big Ten honors. Another freshman, Paul Ruggeri, and another senior, Tyler Yamauchi, earned second-team honors, and Jon Drollinger took fourth place in the still rings.