Men’s gymnastics loses to Michigan

By Jeff LaBelle

After an away loss to Michigan Saturday, Illinois wasn’t looking down.

The disappointment of their 216.350 – 212.500 defeat was soon overshadowed by a profound realization: The top-ranked men’s gymnastics team in the country is flawed. Michigan, it’s safe to say, isn’t perfect.

“I thought they would have been a little tougher than they were,” freshman Chad Wiest said. “I think when we see them again we can definitely beat them.”

Beforehand, head coach Yoshi Hayasaki pointed out that Michigan has been prone to making mistakes in recent weeks. At the Pacific Coast Invite Feb. 24th, their showing lacked the power of a top-ranked contender. He even joked that maybe his team could be the fortunate benefactors of some mistakes when they faced off during the weekend.

With the Big Ten Championships (March 30-31) fast approaching, though, such jokes are taking on added significance. Michigan’s weaknesses bode well for teams like Illinois that are looking to dethrone the nation’s top seed.

“Michigan is beatable,” Hayasaki said. “If we had some good pommel horse routines, it could have been a very close competition.”

Wes Haagensen led the charge for the Illini Saturday, earning his fourth All-Around title of the season. Tyler Yamauchi, coming off his Big Ten co-Gymnast of the Week award, was in top form to win the vault crown. Juniors Chris Silcox and Jon Drollinger, along with freshman Chad Wiest, helped secure a solid showing for Illinois.

“We’re encouraged by how close we could have been if a few things went our way,” Hayasaki said.

The Illini fell apart in their first event of the night, the pommel horse, forfeiting the top five spots in the event to Michigan. Chris Lung’s score (8.500) was Illinois’ highest in the event and Brian Liscovitz was the only other Illinois performer to score above an 8.000.

“We fell almost a full four or five points behind after that event,” Hayasaki said. “We came back pretty strong with our floor, rings and vaulting, but we just came up short.”

Drollinger (9.450), along with Haagensen (9.500), helped the Illini power to a solid performance in the still rings. Wiest had three top-five finishes on the night, highlighted by a 9.050 on vault. Silcox finished third on high bar for the Illini, who have a home meet next Saturday against Illinois-Chicago at 2 p.m.

“I feel like Michigan is definitely beatable,” said sophomore Nick Stango, who scored an 8.600 on still rings. “All we have to do is hit our sets and we’ll be fine.”