Bobby Baker powers Illini men's gymnastics' hot start

By James Boyd

Since beginning its season with the annual Orange and Blue exhibition, the Illini Men’s gymnastics team has gotten off to a hot start; winning its first two regular season meets.

The Illini’s first victory came against the UIC Flames on Jan. 9. The Illini dominated in a way they have never done before, recording a 432.500, the team’s highest mark ever to start a season.

Last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Bobby Baker, is showing no signs of a sophomore slump, earning first place on still rings, parallel bars and high bar; leading the Illini to victory over the Flames. He has now earned crowns in all seven events over the past two seasons, and continues to further his reputation as one of the Big Ten’s most well-rounded gymnasts.

While Baker has already made a name for himself, another Illini gymnast, Alex Diab, has begun to make his. In his first ever regular season event, the freshman took home two crowns in the all-around and floor exercise and proved to be a key scorer throughout the competition.

Diab and Baker were not the only Illini to have first-place finishes in their first meet of the season. Senior Logan Bradley did so on the pommel horse, and sophomore Chandler Eggleston finished first on the vault.

The Illini’s next event took place on Jan. 17, and as defending champions of the Windy City Invitational, they did not disappoint.

Facing off in their first Big Ten competition of the year, they used a team-oriented attack to come away as back-to-back champions.

Sophomore Brandon Ngai kicked things off for the Illini on the pommel horse, posting a 15.550. This proved to be the Illini’s only individual first-place finish, and is currently the highest individual score in the NCAA this season.

As the competition went on, the Illini found themselves competing from behind as they headed into the final two events. Trailing Minnesota by about a point, and with Ohio State right on their heels, they would need solid performances in their last few events.

Eggleston produced one of those performances, recording a 14.900 on the floor exercise in the Illini’s final event to solidify their first place finish with a final score of 425.950. Ohio State finished as the runner up and Minnesota third, as both schools earned final scores of 425.700 and 424.500 respectively.

Early in the season, the Illini have shown that they are capable of winning in different fashions, whether in sheer dominance or by resiliency, and just like last season, they have begun their latest campaign 6-0.

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