Illinois men’s gymnastics finishes on high note at Big Ten championship


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Brandon Ngai performs on the pommel horse during the Men’s Big Ten Gymnastics Championships at State Farm Center. He took the title with a score of 14.825.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

The Illinois men’s gymnastics team came up just short of the team title in the first day of the Big Ten championship meet, but captured individual event titles on the second.

Junior Brandon Ngai, sophomore Johnny Jacobson and sophomore Alex Diab won three of six Big Ten event titles in front of a home crowd at State Farm Center.

“I’m pretty proud of them,”said  head coach Justin Spring.

“They performed well; I think it was a high note to finish the championship weekend, and we have got some big gymnastics to do at NCAA’s in a couple of weeks.”

Ngai took the pommel horse title with a 14.825.

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The event specialist — and defending NCAA champion — had the highest score on pommel horse during the team competition as well.

“It’s cool to be able to go out there, chalk up to get ready, look up and see not just your parents, not just gymnastics enthusiasts, but alumni from previous years,” Ngai said.

Senior Matt Foster, who performed before Ngai, recorded a 14.600. His mark was good enough for a second-place tie with Minnesota’s Justin Karstadt.

“I knew at that point he had medaled, and I just wanted to go out there and do my best,” Ngai said.

“Either way, I would have been excited about the result.”

Diab got his second career rings title, finishing ahead of Ohio State’s Sean Melton with a score of 14.875.

“We were a little disappointed with how we ended up yesterday,” Diab said.

“I just wanted to go back out there and represent the Illini and hopefully get a couple of wins.”

Junior Bobby Baker made the podium as well. Baker placed third on rings with a 14.425, earning a spot on the Second-Team All-Big Ten list.

Diab came close to winning a second event title, recording a 14.500 in the floor event and losing to Minnesota’s Alex Wittenberg by 0.050.

Jacobson won the team’s final event title, posting a 14.550 on parallel bars.

“They really wanted to sweep; I think they knew they could do it,” Spring said.

“We were really close to getting five today, but we ended up walking out with three, which is half of the available Big Ten titles today, which is pretty awesome.”

Junior Tyson Bull took home Second-Team All-Big Ten honors, finishing in third on high bar with a score of 14.275.

No. 3 Ohio State claimed a second-consecutive conference title Friday night, edging Illinois by 2.200 points. The Buckeyes finished with 418.600 team points.

Melton also won the all-around title for Ohio State for a second consecutive season.

During the second rotation, senior Joey Peters and junior Chandler Eggleston had season-high floor performances for the Illini.

Sophomore Ross Thompson led off with a 12.350, followed by Peters and Eggleston, scoring 14.400 and 14.500, respectively.

Conference championship aspirations were hindered due to the team’s performance on rings after sitting out the prior rotation.

Each team had one bye during the night’s seven overall rotations.

Illinois recorded 65.150 points on pommel horse. The team made up ground with a season-high on vault, though, scoring 71.950 points.

The Illini finished with 416.400 team points.

No. 5 Minnesota placed third (413.300), followed by No. 7 Penn State in fourth (411.200), No. 6 Nebraska in fifth (410.000), No. 8 Iowa in sixth (402.150) and No. 9 Michigan in seventh (401.250).

Illinois next competes April 21-22 for the NCAA Championships in West Point, New York.

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