Illinois men’s gymnastics defeats Penn State


Karolina Marczewski

Illinois’ Alex Diab attempts a dismount during his ring routine in the meet against Temple & UIC at Huff Hall on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

Despite not living up to head coach Justin Spring’s expectations for a second week in a row, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team once again prevailed in Big Ten action Friday night.

Illinois (8-0) defeated No. 6 Penn State 411.350-404.550 after leading the entire duration of the meet. The loss was Penn State’s first of the season.

“At any moment I thought Penn State could have absolutely soared past us,” Spring said. “It was only after I watched our performance and seeing we were still winning that I knew Penn State was also not having a good meet at all.”

One highlight of the match for the Illini occurred during the final rotation. Junior Tyson Bull and sophomore Johnny Jacobson set season highs on the horizontal bar. Bull took home the event title with a 14.900 over Penn State’s Michael Burns.

Burns narrowly edged out Jacobson by 0.050 with a 14.300 showing.

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Before the meet, Spring got the chance to briefly interact with the Penn State coaching staff as he let the Nittany Lions use a practice facility for an early warm-up session.

One of the coaches was Penn State assistant Carlos Vasquez. The coaches both know each other well and a bond exists dating back to when Spring was in high school. However, in those days, Vasquez coached Spring during his club season.

Spring said one thing that caught him by surprise was the decision of his counterparts to sport their 2015 Big Ten Championship rings. Not one to be outmatched, Spring had a surprise of his own for the rival coaching staff.

During the meet, Spring chose to wear his 2012 NCAA Championship ring, which commemorates his first (and most recent) national title as head coach of the program. In 2012, Spring was named National Coach of the Year and his squad finished with an overall record of 28-2.

Spring said he felt compelled to bring out the ring because he thought it compared in size to what the other coaching staff was wearing and even joked about Penn State having a “pretty big” Big Ten ring shortly before departing for the evening.

“If they’re going to wear their bling, then we’re going to wear our bling,” Spring said.

The Illini have a while until the entire team is back in competition with more than three weeks of training awaiting most of the team until Big Ten play resumes.

“Hopefully, these guys come back to the gym with some fire and a little upset because this is not a performance that’s going to win us our end goal of a Big Ten Championship,” Spring said. “This (score) would have put us in fifth place.”

In the meanwhile, four members of the team – Alex Diab, Joey Peters, Johnny Jacobson and Brandon Ngai – will depart for the Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas.  The four-day event starts Feb. 15 with official competition kicking off the following day.

Illinois will return to action Feb. 25 when they square off against Iowa in Champaign.

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