Men’s gymnastics lacks top performer, falls to Penn State

By Jeff LaBelle

The Illini were looking ahead. Then, they got held back.

Illinois, resting its top all-around performer, Wes Haagensen, in a precautionary move to keep him at full strength, met some adversity at Penn State last weekend.

Penn State didn’t need a home advantage when they took to the mats against the Illini; they were already the second-ranked team in the NCAA. Illinois head coach Yoshi Hayasaki didn’t blink before referring to the Nittany Lions as “one of the top competitors” for the national title.

But Hayasaki also said he felt the scoring undermined his team’s overall performance Saturday, and the Illini fell to Penn State 220.150-205.250.

“They always seem to do that at home,” said Hayasaki, referring to the high score of the Lions. “I might be biased, but there were certainly some inflated scores here. The judges don’t know our team at all, they’ve never judged us before, and I felt some of our scores could have been higher than they were. We deserved better. We were shot in the hand, and without our top gymnast competing, we’ll just have to take a loss in this meet.”

The Illini were in a scramble from the beginning Saturday, snapping together their rotations to recover from the loss of Haagensen. The five spots he vacated were filled by a legion of teammates: Andres Saavedra, Tyler Williamson and veteran Chris Silcox, who stepped out of his normal routine lineup. In some events, the Illini only competed with five gymnasts as opposed to the normal six.

“We didn’t put in our best lineup,” Hayasaki said. “We came here to experience the facility, the competition, and the environment. One thing that we gained was the overall experience, and hopefully that will help out these young guys. We had to give them that opportunity sometime.”

Penn State’s Derek Helsby set season highs on four events, and along with teammate Tommy Ramos, helped soil the preview of this season’s NCAA championships which will be held in the same Penn State gym.

Illinois freshman Chad Wiest and juniors Tyler Yamauchi and Silcox had solid scores in the loss.

Yamauchi notched a third-place finish on the rings with a score of 9.400 and Silcox finished third on floor exercise. Wiest won the floor exercise and took home third on vault. The Pennsylvania native is currently ranked in the top ten nationally in both events.

“Chad was once again performing like an experienced gymnast,” Hayasaki said. “He had a good vault, parallel routine; he’s been doing his job. That’s one of the bright spots we had during this competition.”

The Illini have an upcoming meet in California this weekend, where they’ll take on four of the nation’s top teams. At the end of the year, when the Illini return to the Pennsylvania gym, Hayasaki said he knows he’ll see a different, much-improved Illini team take the floor for the championships.

“We’ll be more confident, have more solid routines, and be more consistent,” he said. “Certainly, we’re going to be a much different team.”