March 22, 2001
The fifth-ranked Illinois men's gymnastics team is looking for not only a Big Ten title in the upcoming weeks, but a national title as well and have the deepest, most consistent team in 11 years set to take on the competition.
The Illini have ranked as high as second in the nation this season after overcoming odds of losing nine-time All-American Travis Romagnoli to graduation and adapting to a new, drastically different, code of scoring. Never in recent years, has an Illinois squad had so many contributors.
The key to this year's Big Ten Championships for the Illini will be pommel horse, an event that Illinois has struggled with all season. When the squad has been successful on horse, against Iowa with a 35.20 and at the UCLA Invitational with a 35.60, the team has posted its best team overall scores of the year. By far the Illini's strong suit has been still rings with five gymnasts ranking in the top-20. The team has posted high scores of over 37.00 on three occasions including a 37.45 at the UCLA Invitational.
ILLINI HISTORY IN THE BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIPS
With 22 Big Ten Conference titles under its belt, the Illinois men's gymnastics program boasts the most in the conferences history. It's last title came in 1989 which was the second straight for the Illini. In that year, Yoshi Hayasaki was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year and senior David Zeddies won the Nissen-Emery Award. It was also the year the Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG) institued a new code of scoring, which ironically went into effect this season as well. The highest finish for the Illini since 1989 was a pair of third place finishes in 1992 and 2000. The last All-Big Ten performer to come from Illinois was Leo Oka in 1999 following a sixth-place finish in the all-around. In 1998, Travis Romagnoli took home Big Ten Gymanst of the Year honors and won the conference's high bar title, as a sophomore
MEMBERS OF THE 216 CLUB
With the new code of scoring this season, high team scores among the nation have ranged anywhere from 210.00 to 217.00. So to be among the members of the 216.00 club, the Illini are keeping very good company. On March 3, Illinois posted a 216.15 in the home finale against Iowa, recording its best scores on floor exercise and nearly matching the high rings score of the season. Only five teams have scored 216 or better this season, they are:
217.30 Oklahoma vs. Ohio State March 10 217.20 Ohio State vs. Penn State Feb. 24 217.175 Minnesota vs. Michigan Feb. 24 216.55 Michigan vs. Oklahoma/UMass Feb. 18 216.45 Ohio State vs. Michigan State Feb. 9 216. 17 Michigan vs. Minnesota Feb. 24 216.15 Illinois vs. Iowa March 3
RINGING IN THE SCORES
For the entire season, the Illinois gymnasts have held the spot of the No. 1 rings team in the country. Five gymnasts are ranked in the top-20 on the event with senior Linh Hoang leading the way with a 9.475 average and fourth in the nation. The Illini have posted as a team over 37.00 three times this year, including a 37.40 against Iowa and 37.45 at the UCLA Invitational.
OKA LOOKING TO IMPROVE ON 2000
Looking back at senior Leo Oka's career, the all-arounder has worked on constantly improving his standing year after year. As a freshman, Oka competed as an all-arounder and contributed to the team's third-place finish at the NCAAs. He improved on that performance as a sophomore as he qualified for the NCAA Championships as an all-arounder and placed seventh, one spot shy of All-America status. That season he also placed seventh on rings and earned All-Big Ten honors. As a junior, Oka placed sixth at nationals, earning his first All-America honor. He will look to improve on last season's performance with an all-around performance that puts the team in place to win a Big Ten and NCAA title.
FLOORING THE COMPETITION
After two seasons as an NCAA qualifier on floor exercise, junior Sean-Paul Crawford is making winning the event a regular occasion. In the 10 meets this season for the Illini, Crawford has placed first on floor seven times. He has won floor in the last five meets and will be looking for his sixth in a row at the 2001 Big Ten Championships, for their highest finish in eight years.
RECAPPING THE 2000 BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIPS
Entering the 2000 Big Ten Championships, the Illini were picked to finish sixth out of seven teams. Until that point the highest team score that season had been a 227.20 posted against Michigan. But the Illini came out of the gates with strong performances on floor exercise and parallel bars to turn out a 228.075 for third place, vaulting over Iowa, eventual national champion Penn State and Michigan State.
ILLINI POST MOST WINS IN SCHOOL HISTORY
With a 19-4 regular season record this year, head coach Yoshi Hayasaki has posted the most wins in school history. The previous best was 13 wins in 1998, the same year the Illini placed third at the NCAA Championships. In those 19 wins are a first-place finish at the UCLA Invitational and second-place finishes at the Santa Barbara Invitational and the Windy City Invite.