Gymnasts certain of win

By Jeff LaBelle

If you like drama, this isn’t the meet for you.

According to junior co-captain Michael Boyer, there won’t be any tight races or close calls in this weekend’s men’s gymnastics meet. The Illini, he said, have got it under control.

“We know we have this one,” Boyer said. “We’ve got them beat, basically.”

Sherlock Holmes can take the day off Saturday when the seventh-ranked Illini face 12th-ranked Illinois-Chicago at Huff Hall at 2 p.m. There’s no mystery – this weekend’s meet serves as a crucial warm-up for the fast-approaching Big Ten Championships March 30-31 in Minneapolis, Minn. Saturday’s contest, if lacking in intensity, is just the kind of meet the Illini need at this time of year. It’s almost an afterthought.

Illinois-Chicago has averaged 197.471 points per meet this season and their high score, 206.55, came last weekend against Air Force. Their team score has improved in every competition, but the Illini won’t be measuring their routines against Illinois-Chicago. They’ll be showing themselves what they can do.

“(Illinois-Chicago is) putting up better scores than they were the last time we saw them at the Windy City Invite,” head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. “But they’re not at the level of Big Ten teams yet. I think this competition itself is not much of a concern for us. What I’m looking for is polished routines for the Big Tens and NCAA Championships. This is an opportunity for us to get our guys ready.”

Hayasaki said his team, as they prepare for a demanding week of two-a-days practice over spring break, is getting excited about their postseason possibilities. The Illini have struggled at times during the season, failing to record a dual meet win until their home meet March 3rd against Iowa where they set their season-high, 214.950. But the missteps and mistakes in their past have no bearing on the team’s potential, and Hayasaki is ready for their hard work to pay off.

“I think they’re getting excited,” Hayasaki said. “Everybody knows that all their work and training since September has been for this. Our goal has been championships in both Big Tens and NCAAs and we’re coming down to the wire now. They’re aware of that.”

Last weekend, the Illini lost a battle to top-ranked Michigan 216.350-212.500 on the road. In the meet, junior Wes Haagensen earned his fourth all-around title, junior Tyler Yamauchi secured the vault title and the Illini received yet another solid performance from freshman standout Chad Wiest. Jon Drollinger and Chris Silcox helped lead the veteran charge with solid routines on the still rings and high bar, respectively.

With their eyes on a bigger prize, the Illini have sacrificed their bodies this week in practice. Their training schedule has pushed them to their limit, but in two weeks, their pain could be worth it.

“Even though we could wear ourselves out for this upcoming meet, we’re going to start training hard now,” Boyer said. “At this point, our routines are getting more and more consistent. But we want ultra consistency.”

Hayasaki said their spring break training will be crucial to their development.

“We’ve had some good events, and we’ve had our share of problems, too, like our pommel horse routines,” Hayasaki said. “Everybody else might be going out and traveling for spring break, but we just have to put it together. It’s time. If we can do that, I expect we’ll have some good results.”