Illinois knocks off Northern Illinois in first-ever virtual meet

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Men's Gymnastics Twitter

Freshman Logan Myers competes in the rings event during the meet against Northern Illinois on Friday.

By Bradley Zimmerman, Staff Writer

The Illinois and Northern Illinois men’s gymnastics teams made history on Friday night when they competed in the NCAA’s first-ever virtual gymnastics meet. The teams competed hundreds of miles apart and were scored by judges who were just as far away with a scoring and streaming system created for holding gymnastics meets in this fashion. While ushering in a new era for the sport and its competitions, Illinois soundly defeated Northern Illinois 384.75-310.10 to kick off the 2021 season.

The Illini claimed all six event titles, with sophomore Evan Manivong leading the way with titles on floor exercise and vault. He set a career-high score on vault, as did fellow sophomore Dylan Kolak.

Redshirt senior Tommy Mistretta tied his career-high score on pommel horse, winning his first career pommel horse title. On still rings, graduate student Danny Graham, who finished the 2020 season ranked No. 1 in the nation in the event, picked up where he left off and claimed the event title.

Freshmen Will Hauke and Logan Myers made their collegiate debuts and made immediate impacts for Illinois. Hauke split the high bar title with senior Jordan Kovach while Myers outright won the parallel bars title. He also placed second on vault and third on still rings and high bar. Head coach Justin Spring was impressed with Myers, especially given Myers was a last-minute replacement for junior Michael Fletcher on parallel bars.

“Michael was supposed to be on parallel bars, but he had to walk away from the meet because his back was cramping up. Logan didn’t even warm up on parallel bars, and we threw him in and he won a title,” Spring said. “He had every reason to have a rough go but he crushed it. He didn’t miss a routine for us; he was 100 percent. Very proud of that kid.”

The result of the meet was expected. Non-conference meets such as this one are meant to be a tuneup for the Illini to get ready for Big Ten opponents. Although Illinois came away with the victory against Northern Illinois, they were not flawless.

“We had a lot of falls. There is nothing more detrimental in a gymnastics meet,” Spring said. “Consistency wins competitions in the regular season and we were quite the opposite of consistent. There’s no sugarcoating that.”

Spring didn’t want to make excuses for his struggling gymnasts, but something that didn’t help them was the length of time they had to wait before performing their routines. Several times during the meet they were left standing in front of the apparatus for several minutes, waiting to get approval to begin performing. This took a mental toll on those waiting gymnasts.

“You get psyched up, you’re ready to go, and then you wait. You go from focused to asking why this is taking so long. You get out of your zone,” Spring said. “It certainly made it a lot more difficult on the guys. No question.”

Spring suspected that stream issues affected the judges’ abilities to watch and score performances, which led to longer wait times. This lengthened the meet duration to nearly three-and-a-half hours, longer than any other meet Spring has been a part of. Meanwhile, Penn State and Army’s virtual meet the day after the Illinois-Northern Illinois meet took only two hours to complete.

With their non-conference tuneup behind them, the team has its sights set on the first Big Ten meet of the season, a Jan. 23 bout against Ohio State. Currently, no other virtual meets are scheduled for the rest of the season.

@B_RadZimm