Men’s Gymnastics heads to NCAA Championships

By Daniel Johnson

For the final time this season, Illinois gymnastics will be taking to the gym – this time for the NCAA Championships at Stanford.

For the senior class, this will mark their final meet to compete, barring the use of an extra year of eligibility.

“Every time we’ve gone out there, it’s been a different experience since freshman year,” senior Wes Haagensen said. “There have been years when we’ve been really talented and under-performed, like freshman year. Other years, we’ve done a lot better, and some years we’ve (come) up just short. It’s been a really great experience, overall, though.”

After its last meet, a second-place finish in the Big Ten Championships, the team had another two-week period to prepare for the NCAAs.

The gymnasts have been in Palo Alto, Calif., since Monday, giving them a decided advantage over past meets, when they have had minimal time between traveling and competing.

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“Being in one place for a long time, being at this same gym, we’re going to be waking up at the same time. That whole routine helps a lot,” senior Michael Boyer said. “It also takes us away from everything that is here. It’s a whole new life, it’s brand new, and the competition will start the day we travel.”

Thursday will be the first day of competition among the two groups of six teams that compose the top-12 teams in the nation. If the Illinois gymnasts can make their way past the first day, they will be among the “Super Six,” those vying for the National Title.

“Honestly, we stand a great chance of making the Six, but it’s not something that is guaranteed,” senior Chris Silcox said. “If we suck the first day of competition, we probably won’t deserve to go, and likely won’t. Assuming that we make it to the Six, it’s anyone’s meet. Oklahoma, Stanford, Cal-Berkley, all of those schools can run up a score.”

The team was quick to temper any predictions that might be too bold. But the athletes were also not afraid to admit it will likely be a “five-team meet,” with the top five of the final Troester gymnastics poll – the Sooners, the Cardinals, the Golden Bears, Penn State and Illinois – comprising the core of the competition. Each of the five teams will have a Nissen-Emery Award finalist, the accolade given to the year’s top senior gymnast. Each of the five has a scoring average of at least 355.810.

The Championships will be rife with competition, but for the team, the experience of being there as a unit is something that is just as enjoyable.

“We obviously want the Championship, it’d be pointless for us to go out there if we didn’t,” Silcox said. “But the experience of going to (the) Championships is one that you can’t replace.”