Illini take third in team event

By Mike Czapar

After a strong performance in Friday’s preliminary round of competition, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team struggled in Saturday’s finals, coming in third behind Big Ten rival Ohio State and eventual champion Oklahoma.

The Illini and the Buckeyes battled all season, trading the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the GymInfo national poll, but in the end the Sooners came out on top, shocking both squads.

Junior Adam Pummer said Illinois was disappointed with the results of Friday’s competition, but was not surprised that the most consistent team performance took the title.

“It’s like we’ve been saying all season, the team that hits the best is going to win,” Pummer said. “It was disappointing that we didn’t have a great meet because we definitely could have won, but we did get a lot of experience, and we’ll keep it going for next year.”

Illinois suffered from an uncharacteristic poor pommel horse performance early in the competition and was forced to play catch up throughout the remainder of the meet.

Junior Justin Spring said after having a tough pommel horse rotation the Illini tried to maintain the team energy and not give up.

“We tried to keep everyone pumped up and stay rowdy,” Spring said. “We weren’t out of it yet, and we knew if we could grab a few tenths here and there we could be right back in there.”

Illinois rebounded on the rings and the vault, chalking up solid scores and making up lost ground. The Illini were led on the rings by senior Ben Newman and freshman Tyler Yamauchi, and on the vault by the strong scores of Pummer and Spring and freshman Chris Silcox.

In the next two rotations, Illinois returned to form, led again by the pair of 9.775’s on the parallel bars by Spring and Pummer, and a crowd-raising 9.900 from Spring on the high bar.

Although Illinois finished strong, it was not enough as both Ohio State and Oklahoma maintained their lead over the Illini.

In only Spring’s third time competing in the all-around this season, he earned All-American status coming in sixth.

“I hadn’t competed in all-around much this year, so I wasn’t sure where I would finish,” Spring said. “I stuck with it after a rough start on floor and horse, and I had a couple strong events to finish the meet, and I just snuck in (to the top eight) at sixth.”

The Illini will return next season with three of four All-Americans, and graduate only three from the young squad.

Pummer said although the team did not finish the year in the manner they would have liked, that it was a strong season and the potential for next year is unlimited.

“Overall, it was a good season,” Pummer said. “I can remember back to my freshman year and how nervous I was, and I saw a lot of maturity over the season come from our freshmen. We need to take this season as a learning experience for everyone.”