UI''s all-round athlete

UI''s all-round athlete

By: Dave Wischnowsky

By: Dave Wischnowsky

By: Dave Wischnowsky

By: Dave Wischnowsky

CHAMPAIGN – As a 10-year-old growing up in Aurora, Ontario, Travis Romagnoli followed his older brothers, Shawn and Neil, into gymnastics.

"Like my brothers, I got into it for basic fitness and conditioning," said Romagnoli, a sophomore at the University of Illinois. "But I was the only one to stick with it."

Ten years later, the Illini and his native country are glad he did.

Heading into the Big Ten Championships today in Ann Arbor, Mich., Romagnoli, the league's male gymnast of the month for two months running, is on pace to become one of the finest gymnasts in Illini history.

As a freshman, he tied the school record in the vault (9.80) and became a two-time All-American by placing third in the all-around and vault at the NCAA Championships.

This year, he's at it again.

Already, Romagnoli has added a school record in the parallel bars (9.85).

And his score of 58.325 in the all-around is tops in the nation, .25 short of former U.S. Olympian Charles Lakes' UI record.

"For the most part, I'm pretty pleased with this season," Romagnoli said. "My goal each weekend is to monitor my performance and improve my scores. That's what I want."

He also wants the Illini to do well at the Big Tens and beyond.

"Travis is not just a good individual performer, he's very team-oriented," UI coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. "He feels Illinois could do well not just in the Big Tens, but nationally.

"His goals are set more for team competitions than individuals. That's what's so good about him."

Romagnoli focuses little on himself. He didn't even know if he had set the school record in the parallel bars – his teammates had to clue him in.

An NCAA title would suit him, though.

"I never usually say my goal is to be No. 1. That's weird for me to say that," Romagnoli said. "But, that would be a great accomplishment."

The two gymnasts who finished ahead of him in the 1997 NCAA all-around competition were seniors, leaving Romagnoli this year's front-runner.

The NCAA meet is April 16-18 at Penn State.

"Statistically, he's the No. 1 gymnast this year," Hayasaki said. "But that doesn't mean he's a shoo-in to win. There's always someone coming up.

"But, he is one of the top three, in my opinion, to be competing for the national and Big Ten titles."

Romagnoli, a competitor in the Candian National Championships since 1989, could be one of the top gymnasts in the world and prove it at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, his coach said.

"I'm sure his ultimate goal is the Olympics in 2000, which is also his senior year. So that works out perfectly," Hayasaki said.

"He has a good chance to make it. But his goal is not to just make the Olympic team, but to do well individually against the best of the best in the world."

The UI tops his list, though.

"My priority is with the school and not with Canada," Romagnoli said. "We're looking at the nationals. It's not going to be easy to make it, but it's within our reach."

Women on road

Already assured of its first regional appearance in five years, the UI women's gymnastics team has high hopes at Saturday's Big Ten meet in Iowa City, Iowa.

The UI, sixth-place finishers a year ago, will rely on junior Kim Berres, an All-Big Ten performer in 1997. The UI is coming off its best road show of the season, a win last weekend at Illinois State.