Illinois men’s gymnastics set school record at Air Force Academy

By James Boyd

And on Saturday his squad rose.

In the Illini’s first five-up five-count meet this season, the team hauled in a school record 442.300 pointsAG, despite performing at a higher altitude inside the U.S. Air Force Academy.

California and Air Force finished second and third, scoring 434.050 AGand 433.450 AGrespectively.

“I think the altitude actually really messes you up honestly,” sophomore Bobby Baker AGsaid. “You’re winded (going) through a routine just because you’re not used to it.”

Suspended from Illinois’ last home meet and the Winter Cup Challenge, Baker returned to the lineup Saturday.AG

In his eyes, missing the last two competitions allowed him to work on parts of his routines that he’s struggled with the entire year, and the results were clearly on display in Colorado.

The reigning Big Ten Gymnast of the Year AGled the way for the Illini. He earned the vault title after scoring a career-high 15.300,AG and picked up two more crowns on parallel bars and in the all-around.

“His scores speak for how important Bobby is to our team,” Spring said. “(Bobby) put up an 89 AGin the all-around … Coming off three weeks of training, I think he was itching to get back to competition.”

The headlining moment of the meet was Illinois’ performance on the pommel horse. Sophomore Brandon Ngai AGcontinued to make the argument that he’s the nation’s best gymnast on the apparatus, earning his sixth straight title AGwith a score of 15.550.AG

Spring has praised Ngai for his consistency all season, but upon entering the Air Force Academy, the rest of the team hadn’t performed well on the pommel horse. Thanks to junior Tom Gibbs,AG that would change.

“Tom stepped up and started us off great,” Spring said. “I think it really stems from him. Finally having that first guy up doing his job, and then the rest of the guys just kind of steamrolled and continued doing a tremendous job.”

Gibbs posted a score of 14.850, AGbeginning what would be a strong team performance on the pommel horse. Illinois’ score of 76.150AG Saturday is currently the highest score in the country for the event, and the second-highest score ever recorded in the NCAA.AG

In the locker room after the meet, the Illini huddled together, congratulating each other on the victory. Team captains Gibbs and senior Logan Bradley each shared moments in which they thought the team did well, but in spite of improving to 12-3 AGon the season, Spring’s attention was on what the team did poorly.

“We had a test of resilience and a couple mistakes … and obviously had some break out events,” Spring said. “The bigger picture for me still is looking at future potential … There’s still a lot of places to increase our team score.”

[email protected][email protected]