Top-five victories push team forward


Brian Bauer

Illinois’ Alex Diab works the still rings at the meet against Minnesota in Huff Hall on Feb. 26, 2017. His score tied the season high.

By Nithin Reddy, Staff writer

The Illinois men’s gymnastics team topped off an impressive senior night with victories over No. 2 Stanford and No. 5 Minnesota. The Illini scored a season-high 413.05 points to the Cardinals’ 411.65 and Golden Gophers’ 404.75 points.

The night was won by Alex Diab.  

The senior is in the midst of another stellar season and is looking to repeat his 2018 campaign, when he finished with a national championship on the still rings. On the night, Diab won two titles, floor and the ever-familiar still rings. He scored a 14.8 on his floor routine and a 15.2, a program record, on the still rings.

The program-breaking performance had Diab calling the senior night a bittersweet moment.

“I tried not to get too sad about it because we have a lot of season to go, but it is something special competing in front of Huff Hall,”  Diab said.

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Fellow senior Johnny Jacobson had a successful night as well. Jacobson competed in three events: floor, parallel bars and high bars. He had the Illini’s highest score on the parallel bars.  

Jacobson has come a long way in his four years. As a freshman, he was talented, but now he’s an all-American athlete who could be helping the Illini make a run at a national championship.

“I envisioned it happening, but I never believed I could achieve any of this,” Jacobson said. “I didn’t even believe I won parallel bars at the Big Ten championship until three weeks after.”

Two other seniors honored were Blake Martin and Ross Thompson. Unfortunately for Martin, he did not compete, but Thompson competed in the high bar, where he scored a 13.4.

Even though the two seniors didn’t have a large impact on the meet, their leadership has been obvious within the team. After the meet, the Illini hosted a miniature Ninja Warrior obstacle course open for the community, and both Thompson and Martin were avidly involved. Thompson also noticed how special those fans made senior night, saying there was an “electric” atmosphere.

Aside from an eventful night for the seniors, the Illini came out with an immense victory. The team beat two top five teams including a Cardinals’ squad making a case to be the No. 1 team in the country.

Head coach Justin Spring felt the team finally put it all together.

“We were doing our job finally,” Spring said. “Every meet we have won because we failed the least. Today we had some mess-ups, but we really had some turn on moments.”

The Illini will compete next against the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday.  This will be the second time the Illini face the No. 1 Sooners, and they hope it will go better than last time when they lost 399.15 to 411.3.

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