Illini men's gymnastics to clash with Temple, UIC

By James Boyd

Tweet: @llliniMGym will look to bounce back after a close to Penn State. The #Illini face UIC and Temple this Saturday.

No longer undefeated, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team looks to regroup after a close loss to defending Big Ten Champion Penn State.

The Illini are back at Huff Hall this Saturday, after being on the road for three weeks, and will face Temple and UIC.

Illinois gets a break from Big Ten action this week and will compete against UIC for the third time this season. The Illini hold an all-time record of 72-16 against the Flames, but head coach Justin Spring is not impressed.

“Oklahoma is sailing through, dominating hit percentage . . . We peaked at our first meet of the year and have gone progressively down,” Spring said. “A lot has to change in the next six weeks for us to be where we need to be.”

Spring named sophomore Brandon Ngai the team’s men’s gymnast of the week, and Ngai will try to win his fourth straight pommel horse title against the Owls and Flames.

Spring said the 17-year-old earned the weekly honor because of the relentless work ethic he shows day in and day out at Kenney Gym.

“You only have like four years to do this. … There’s not a lot after college, especially for event specialists,” Ngai said. “I also know that I have the talent and ability to win a national championship, so why not?”

Spring was openly frustrated with his team following the weekend — he said only a few gymnasts were prepared to compete last Saturday. He added that some guys on the team have not been taking practice seriously enough, resulting in a meet that his team gave away.

“You do not rise to the occasion,” Spring said. “You fall to the level of your training.”

Sophomore Bobby Baker fell three times against Penn State, including one on the dismount of his high bar routine — earning him a season-low score of 13.000. Freshman Johnny Jacobson added another poor performance in the event with a meet low score of 12.200.

Baker, the reigning Big Ten Gymnast of the Year, had been averaging a score of 15.100 on the apparatus coming into the competition against the Nittany Lions, but made some uncharacteristic mistakes.

“I’m pissed at myself,” said Baker. “Because we know realistically we can beat them.”

The Illini do not have another regular season meet against the Nittany Lions, but the teams may see each other again in April for the Big Ten Championships.

Senior Fred Hartville competed for the first time last week since suffering a season ending injury in the warmups of last year’s NCAA Championships. His score of 14.800 on vault earned him third place honors.

This week’s three-way meet against UIC and Temple will be only Hartville’s second competition of the year, with Illinois seeking to move to 9-1 on the season.

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