Gymnasts’ slow start dooms Illini

By Jeff LaBelle

They were saddled in spandex as usual, but the Illini weren’t ready to ride.

In their first dual meet of the season against Big Ten rival Minnesota, the men’s gymnastics team came out flat on Saturday, dropping the contest 207.150-204.750, and stumbling on their first event of the night – the pommel horse.

Chalk it up to nerves or inexperience, but the young team’s performance on the pommel horse put it in an insurmountable hole, one that wouldn’t be erased by a career night from freshman Chad Wiest, nor the steady rings duo of juniors Jon Drollinger and Tyler Yamauchi.

“It was a little nerve-racking and difficult (doing pommel horse first), and after that first event we were five points behind,” head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. “We tried playing catch-up the rest of the night, but we couldn’t ever climb out of that hole.”

They tried, though, and efforts by Wiest and the rings team brought them back into contention. Wiest, who set personal highs on floor exercise (9.450) and high bar (8.250) in his first collegiate competition, is proving his worth as a tough, poised freshman.

“He’s definitely responding to college competition,” Hayasaki said of Wiest. “I’m very pleased with how he competed.”

All totaled, the Illini walked away with three individual crowns: Wiest on floor exercise, Drollinger on rings, and Wes Haagensen on all-around – his second such title of the season. When all was said and done, though, the Illini held only one of the top-five scores on the pommel horse.

Haagensen’s all-around performance was enough for a title, but was not on par with last week’s effort.

Although his Saturday was solid, it was nearly three points lower than his score last weekend: the difference in the meet this time around.

“Wes (Haagensen) had a little bit of an off night,” Hayasaki said. “And overall, we just didn’t have a good day in some of our events.”

Hidden in between the stat lines of Saturday’s loss are indications that the team is still trying to figure itself out and develop an identity they can take with them on the road.

“This young team doesn’t know how to respond sometimes, and that just comes from inexperience,” Hayasaki said. “I’m not too concerned about it. These guys realize now that we can’t take teams lightly. Ohio next weekend will be big.”