Illini gymnastics strives to maintain high rank

By Jeff LaBelle

The Golden Gophers may have finished sixth, or in other words, last in the Big Ten standings last year, but that doesn’t mean head coach Yoshi Hayasaki and the rest of the men’s gymnastics team are looking past their foes from Minnesota.

“Certainly, we’re going there to win that competition, but we’re nowhere near taking them for granted,” Hayasaki said. “They have the potential to be a very good team and we can’t take them very lightly, especially since we’ll be at Minnesota, which is always a difficult place to compete.”

The coach cited a stout recruiting class and a fourth-place finish at last weekend’s Windy City Invitational, two spots behind the Illini, as reason enough to take Minnesota seriously.

And while eyes will surely watch the final score this Saturday, Hayasaki is keeping tabs on how well his team holds together on the road.

“Just because we beat them at the Windy City meet doesn’t mean we will beat them again,” he said. “It’s always that way.”

In a role they will learn to love or just get used to, the Illini will hit the road for the second consecutive week in a season designed to test their ability to adapt and sleep on buses, among other things.

They have only three home meets remaining in a season that could potentially stretch into mid-April for the NCAA Championships in Pennsylvania.

“It takes a lot out of you, energy, travel times, sleeping, academics, it’s always tough,” Hayasaki said. “Last year, we had a chance to win the National Championship, and part of the reason we had that chance is because we didn’t travel as much. This is a young team. They have to be tough and experience all of that.”

The Illini, who are 121-88 all-time against Minnesota including a 207.300 – 201.650 win at home last January, are ranked sixth in the nation in a current GymInfo poll behind Ohio State and Penn State.

The Illini’s Wes Haagensen will see his first action Saturday at 7 p.m. since being named the National and Big Ten gymnast of the week on Wednesday.