Nucleus Returns For Men's Gymnastics Team
Jan. 13, 2000
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Although the 1999 season ended with the disappointing loss of two-time national champion Travis Romagnoli to a hand injury, the Fighting Illini squad which had the potential to improve on their third-place national finish of 1998, now find themselves with a stronger, deeper squad for the 2000 campaign. Illinois head coach Yoshi Hayasaki returns for his 24th season at the helm of the nationally ranked Illini program. Hayasaki has led nine teams to the top-10 nationally as well as an NCAA Championship team in 1989 and runner up in 1988. He has tutored 33 All-Americans, four national champions and two Olympians.
With only the loss of All-American Kyle Zak and parallel bar specialist Kurt Hettinger, the Illini have the nucleus of a team which was vying for a national championship. The Illinois squad now looks at a team with eight and nine competitors deep in most events. Back for the Illini is seven-time All-American Travis Romagnoli, as well as NCAA qualifiers Leo Oka, Linh Hoang, Eric Nishimoto, Sean-Paul Crawford and Greg Cook.
Along with the seasoned veterans of the 2000 squad are seven newcomers who have the chance to contribute immediately to the team. Among the freshman class are New Mexico state champion Nathan Torres and Bob Spelic, a Pennsylvania state champion.
The Illini return exceptionally strong rotations on pommel horse, parallel bars and floor exercise. On pommel horse all six competitors remain from 1999, including three horse specialists and all-arounder Hoang who qualified for NCAAs on the event. The Illini could be as experienced as 10-deep on parallel bars with all-american Romagnoli and NCAA Qualifier Cook returning to lead the squad. Romagnoli and sophomore Crawford lead the campaign on floor with another experienced rotation returning this season. Competing in the Big Ten, the toughest conference in the nation, the Illini will have to square up with the likes of defending national champion Michigan, runners-up Ohio State and the nation's fourth place team, Penn State to be successful in 2000.
The team's lone senior, Romagnoli, will be a candidate for the nation's top award, the Nissen Award, given to the best collegiate gymnast. Among those also vying for the award are Iowa's Todd Strada, BYU's Guard Young and Nebraska's Jason Hardabura.
Here is an event-by-event look at the Illini in 2000.
However, the pleasant surprise of the '99 season was the emergence of all-arounder Leo Oka. Oka stepped up to the challenge as the team leader posting scores of 56.925 at Big Tens and 57.80 at the NCAA Regionals. His score at the conference championships earned him all-Big Ten honors and his performance at regionals was good enough to qualify for the NCAA Championships as an all-arounder.
During the offseason, junior Linh Hoang put the finishing touches on his high bar routine to make him the team's third all-arounder. Hoang, who had been strong for the Illini at five events will now become a very valuable asset as an all-arounder. He qualified for nationals on pommel horse and was a finalist on vault at the Big Ten Championships.
In addition to the all-arounders, juniors Greg Cook and Eric Nishimoto will also look to maintain their spots in the lineup. Sophomore J.G. Ketchen and freshman Nathan Torres look to be contributors on the event as well.