Men’s gymnastics untroubled by loss

By Jeff LaBelle

The veterans aren’t worried about it – they haven’t been all season.

The coach, the younger guys, they’re not worried, either. As long as they’re improving, they say, final standings are second-tier information.

That explains the men’s gymnastics team reaction to a fifth-place finish Saturday in the Pacific Coast Invite. The Illini know four out of five opponents finished ahead of them; they aren’t crazy. But junior Tyler Yamauchi said their reaction proves the Illini are less concerned with midseason meet standings than the progress they make while inching closer to the meets that matter.

Clearly, “progress” is the key word in a season geared toward the final meets of the season, the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA finals.

“Especially the older guys, we know that the beginning of the season doesn’t mean much,” Yamauchi said. “We’ve had that mentality all along. Now, we’re starting to put everything together; we have a lot of room for improvement, but we’re definitely on the right track.”

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    Oklahoma, Stanford, California-Berkeley and Michigan finished ahead of the Illini, who tallied a season-high score of 214.500 on the night. Minnesota, who beat the Illini in a dual meet at the beginning of the season, finished last.

    “This is the closest thing we’ll see to the NCAAs,” junior Wes Haagensen said. “A little bit from the East Coast, a little West Coast. It’s great for everyone to see what it’s going to be like. It’s very similar.”

    Illinois gymnasts registered 17 season highs in the meet, six career highs and 11 top-ten finishes. Haagensen was the only top-three finisher in the all around that is not a member the USA national team. His second-place finish, between Oklahoma’s Jonathan Horton (first) and Arlington Heights native David Sender (third), was a welcome result after resting for last weekend’s meet at Penn State. Haagensen set a career high on floor exercise (9.600) and a total of six season highs.

    “This meet was a big improvement for us,” Haagensen said. “Everyone seemed to be competing a little better than they have. For me, I had a little mistake on parallel bars. Other than that, I was pleased.”

    Yamauchi set career-high marks in the rings (9.750) and vault (9.250). He finished second overall on vault and said he’s been waiting to have a meet like this.

    “I felt pretty good about it,” Yamauchi said. “It’s about time, I guess. It was going to happen eventually.”

    Hayasaki pointed to the pommel horse as the Illini’s weakest event.

    Overall, though, he said he was pleased with how the team responded to top competition.

    “This was the best we’ve been all season,” he said. “I think we’re getting very close to putting everything together. We feel like this is the beginning of the season for us. We’re going to perform better from here on out. We know what we have to do.”

    Freshman Luke Stannard’s score on pommel horse (8.800) was the Illini’s second-best score in the event behind Haagensen. Chad Wiest, continuing his freshman success, set season highs on parallel bars and high bar.

    “The atmosphere was intense,” Wiest said. “It was loud, everybody was cheering. I’ve never been in a competition like this. I can’t wait for NCAAs now. It was pure energy, just a huge rush. It was awesome.”