Gymnasts to use dual as practice for finals

By Jeff LaBelle

When the Illini cozy up in Pennsylvania this weekend, they’ll take an extra interest in their accommodations.

This weekend’s meet is more than just a matchup with the number two men’s gymnastics team in the country, Penn State. It’s a preview, a stage rehearsal for the NCAA championships, the grand finale of their season, which will be decided in the same gym the Illini see on Saturday.

Every detail, from hotel towels to gym layouts, will be etched in to Illini brains until then. Nothing is too tiny to note when the stakes are so high.

“It’ll be a very good rehearsal,” Illinois head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. “We’ll try to duplicate that as much as we can. We’ll be at the same hotel we’re staying in before the national championships, the same gym. Everything will be the same. It’s important for us to be able to go through that progression.”

The Illini gymnasts aren’t underestimating the importance of the meet ahead as both a tough test and a house-warming affair with the gym they won’t see again until April.

“If we can do it there this time, we’ll be able to do it again at NCAAs,” junior Chris Silcox said. “It’s good to get familiar with that gym: memorize it, visualize it for when we’re back.”

The Illini are coming off a team loss to Ohio State three weeks ago in their first home meet of the season. Since then, their focus has been on refining routines and adding new skills that will be improved until the championships.

“Some of those routines are ready, some aren’t,” Hayasaki said. “But I think the guys are hungry for competition and are motivated and ready for this weekend.”

“It’s important we start out strong,” freshman Brian Liscovitz said. “It’s especially hard when you compete at Penn State, but if we can put together a good performance, hopefully we’ll be able to stay with them and come out on top.”

Wes Haagensen, Tyler Yamauchi, and Chris Lung are fresh off a weekend of top competition at the Winter Cup Challenge, the USA national team trials, in Las Vegas. They flew out of Nevada the same night snow began to fall in central Illinois on Tuesday. Haagensen called the climate switch “terrible.”

Penn State will see its first action after falling to Michigan State February 2nd. In that meet, they set a season-high score of 215.8, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the top-ranked Spartans.

“Penn State is a great team with great recruits and some of the most outstanding gymnasts in the nation,” sophomore captain Michael Boyer said. “They’re top-ranked and they’re going to be ready for us. We’re going to be ready for them.”