Illinois men’s gymnastics finish third at Minnesota

By James Boyd

Tweet: Parallel bars cost the Illini on the road and cause them to finish third in six-way meet.

Missing one of its top gymnasts, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team finished third with a score of 429.750 on Saturday in Minneapolis.

Outscoring Illinois in the six-way meet were National Championship runner-up Stanford and Big Ten foe Minnesota who earned scores of 432.800 and 432.650 respectively.

“Overall (I’m) super happy. (We were just) edged out by Stanford and Minnesota … without one of our obviously standout guys,” head coach Justin Spring said. “We’re in a good place and we’re going to make some improvements.”

Stanford had been averaging just over 440 points per competition this season, but even in one of its worst performances, it was still able to edge out the two Big Ten foes, as well as three other teams – including the Canadian National Team — inside Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion.

The Illini began its day on the pommel horse and would be the only team to surpass 70 points on the apparatus. Sophomore Brandon Ngai led the way with a score of 15.050, earning him a share of the event title with Minnesota freshman Justin Karstadt. Ngai has now won five pommel horse crowns this season.

I’m seeing him swing more confidently and aggressively, and this is a kid who is relentless in his pursuit.” Spring said. “He’s kind of a beacon for what the rest of the team should be shooting for.”

Sitting in fourth place after the first rotation, Illinois used a balanced attack on still rings and vault to reposition themselves in the competition. No Illini gymnast scored lower than a 14.000 in either event.

Sophomore Dennis Mitton earned third place honors on still rings, sticking his landing on his way to a team-high 14.750. Sophomore Chandler Eggleston scored a team-high 14.900 on vault, but his three week streak of titles in the event would come to an end.

At the midway point of the competition the Illini moved up to second place in the meet standings and only trailed the Golden Gophers by 1.45 points, but all the momentum they had gained quickly shifted with a collectively poor performance on parallel bars. Their score of 67.150 was the only event of the day when the team scored less than 70 and no individual managed to produce a score of at least 14.000.

“We really, honestly gave the meet away on (parallel) bars,” said Spring.

The head coach believes that his team’s collapse during that event was one of the worst he’s seen in his seven years as the Illini head coach, but also praised his team for the resiliency the showed later in the meet.

Sophomore Tyson Bull won on high bar to earn his second career title in as many weeks, scoring a 15.150 and Eggleston finished runner-up with a 14.900. Three stuck landings from the Illini helped them bounce back from their poor fourth rotation, and kept them within striking distance heading into the final event.

Freshman Johnny Jacobson, senior Fred Hartville, and freshman Blake Martin all scored 14.900 on floor excercise, a team high, but it would not be enough to come out as victors. Stanford and Minnesota would ultimately hold on to win despite Illinois’ second best score of 73.250 and the third place finish moves Illinois to 11-4 on the season.

“With how close the meet ended, and with how much better we could’ve done on (parallel bars),” said Jacobson. “I think going into the next couple competitions, we’re pretty excited.”

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