Illini gymnasts third in NCAA

Illini gymnasts third in NCAA

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Illinois finished third Friday in the NCAA men's gymnastics finals, signaling the rebound of a team that last made it to the finals in 1989.

And with four Illini freshman and two sophomores in the competition, the future is bright for Yoshi Hayasaki's squad.

"This has been like a dream," Hayasaki said. "I'm really proud of our team and the way we performed. I think we exceeded even our own expectations, and I'm really excited about the future of this team.

"This is a great way for our seniors to go out, and it has been a tremendous experience for our underclassmen."

California-Berkeley claimed its second straight title with 231.20 points. Iowa was second at 229.675.

Illinois, which started slowly on the rings and pommel horse, came back to make it respectable at 228.00. The Illini excelled in their final event, the parallel bars, where they scored a 38.30 to Iowa's 30.45 and Berkeley's 30.05.

"I'm very pleased with the way we fought back," Hayasaki said. "Even though we're a young team, we've done that all year."

It was the highest finish for the Illini since they wore the crown nine years ago.

The UI, 22-14 in 1997-98, was led by NCAA all-around champion Travis Romagnoli's first-place showings in the high bar and the vault. Romagnoli also took second in the parallel bars and the floor exercise.

Seniors Brad Panozzo, Jon Corbitt and Yuval Ayalon closed out their careers, Ayalon finishing fourth overall Friday.

Romagnoli competes starting at 6 p.m. today in the individual events finals, where he'll have a shot at NCAA titles in the floor, pommel horse, vault, parallel bars and high bar.

Junior Kyle Zak will compete in the floor exercise finals.