Illini finish third, Diab takes individual title


Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics

llinois secured a third-place finish at the NCAA championships, behind Minnesota and National Champions Oklahoma. Alex Diab took home an individual title in the still rings.

On Saturday night in Chicago, the Illini men’s gymnastics team finished in third place at the Men’s National Collegiate Gymnastics Championships.

The team competed alongside Stanford, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota and Penn State in the finals.

The No. 2-ranked Illini had a strong end to their season before competing in the NCAA championships, which included the program earning its 28th Big Ten title earlier this month.

Once the competition got underway, the Illini were sitting in third place after the first and second rotation, but a strong showing from redshirt senior Chandler Eggleston on the vault with a season-best 72.431 pushed the team into second place after the third rotation.

It was a neck-and-neck battle for the top three slots all night. Illinois’ combined score fluctuated between rounds, putting the men’s team on edge as it neared the end of the final.

“Our first three events went pretty smoothly,” Eggleston said. “We got to high bar; that’s where the pressure started hitting us hard. Our corral, where we wait for events, was right next to Oklahoma. Every time they hit a routine, it was so loud, and then every time we hit a routine, we were screaming.”

Junior Alex Diab was the lone event-title winner for the Illini in the still rings. He said that the crowd was a huge motivator for the Illini.

“I’ve never been at a meet with so many people,” Diab said. “We were head-to-head with Oklahoma the entire meet. Just hearing the crowd was awesome.”

Senior Bobby Baker and junior Johnny Jacobson had season-best performances as well. Jacobson put up a score of 14.666 and Baker a score of 14.233 on the parallel bars to keep the Illini planted in second place after the fourth rotation, with a total score of 277.826.

Heading into the final rotation, Illinois had a score of 342.691, keeping it in second place behind the three-time reigning champion Oklahoma Sooners.

To close things out, the Illini competed in the floor exercise, starting off with a 13.500 from sophomore Jacob Light. Illinois struggled to put up consistent numbers during the event but did finish strong with a 14.336 showing from sophomore Sebastian Quiana.

Illinois finished with a total score of 411.689, just fractions of a point away from Minnesota’s second-place finish of 411.923. The Sooners locked in the Championship title for their fourth consecutive year with a score of 414.858.

Diab emerged as the lone-event title winner for Illinois on the still rings.

“I was super happy about how I ended up individually,” Diab said. “To go All-American on both events and come away with a national title and team rings has been something that’s been a goal of mine since I started out.”

During the preliminary round on Friday, Diab posted a 14.533 on the rings to help the Illini finish with the best rings score of the night before heading to the finals the following evening.

On Saturday, he bested Oklahoma’s Yui Moldauer’s score of 14.433 with 14.500. The finish marked Diab’s third consecutive All-American accolade in the past three years. In 2017, Diab received the honor in the still rings event, and in 2016 for the high bar. He is also the only three-time Big Ten still rings champion in program history.

According to Diab, the Championship came down to the wire.

“It came down to the dismount on some of our events,” Diab said. “We had a few mistakes that cost us the meet, but it’s going to be good fuel and motivation to fight for it next year.”

Diab is now the 58th Illini to win an individual title on the national stage and only the third to do so in the still rings event.

But winning the still rings wasn’t the only reason the Illini posted an impressive third-place finish Saturday night.

Eggleston took first place in the high bar at the Big Ten Championships, so he knew that there was pressure going into the NCAA finals. 

“I just wanted to hit and do my best,” Eggleston said. “At NCAAs, there’s usually not as much pressure because we’ve been doing the same routines all year. My routines at Big Tens were a little better than (NCAAs) this weekend. I knew it was a last shot for me being here, but it’s still incredible to have done my best and received All-American honors.”

According to Eggleston, who took home third in the high bar event with a score of 14.233, the team is extremely pleased with its third-place finish. 

“I’m incredibly fortunate for this experience competing for the Illini, and I didn’t think about having five years here, but I’m glad things happened the way they did,” Eggleston said. “I’m incredibly happy with my performance, and there a few things I think we could have changed, but we’re gonna be fighting even harder for next year.”

Sophomore Sebastian Quiana tied for second place in the floor event with a score of 14.366. Diab also tied for seventh in the same event with a score of 14.166. Senior Brandon Ngai took home third place in the pommel horse, scoring 14.500.

In vault, Baker tied for fourth place with a 14.766 performance. Jacobson also tied for seventh place in the event with a score of 14.633. However, Jacobson snagged a second place outright finish in the parallel bars event after scoring 14.666. In the high bars event,  Eggleston took home third with a score of 14.233.

Baker finished fourth for the Illini in the all-around performance with a total score of 82.331.

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