Illinois men’s gymnastics set to face Michigan

By James Boyd

Tweet: [email protected] return home this Saturday to face Michigan. #Illini

Competing at home for the first time
in over a month, this Saturday the Illinois men’s gymnastics team will square
off against its Big Ten counterpart Michigan.

The last time the Illinois men’s
gymnastics team was at Huff Hall, it posted a season-high score of 436.550, and
finished first against Temple and University of Illinois-Chicago. This time around,
Illinois has a new season-high, after soundly defeating Air Force and
California last weekend — on its way to a school record 442.300 points.

Head coach Justin Spring was
proud of his team’s performance at the U.S. Air Force Academy, but certainly
not thrilled. He pointed out key situations where his squad had the opportunity to
earn even more points, but failed to do so.

“By my calculations we kind of had
… two missed routines (during the floor exercise),” Spring said. “Vault we had
a fall. High bar we probably hit three out of five (routines) … and Tyson
struggled a little bit. You look at one point swings …
(and) where scores have been, and you know they could be better.”

Spring went on to say that his
squad’s mistakes were not all personal errors. The head coach was forced to change
some of his usual lineups due to sophomore Chandler Eggleston’s health, and
that too had an impact on event scores. Eggleston has been dealing with a
sprained ankle over the past three weeks, but Spring hopes that the sophomore
will be ready to go against the Wolverines.

One thing Illinois will be
looking to build on from its meet in Colorado is their pommel horse routine.
Spring considered that to be the only event where his team hardly made any
mistakes. Its score of 76.150 was two tenths away from tying the NCAA all-time
record, and was led by no other than sophomore Brandon Ngai. The 17-year-old
event specialist will seek his seventh straight pommel horse title this
Saturday.

When Michigan arrives in
Champaign, it will be its first competition within the United States
since before the Winter Cup Challenge. Last week in Puerto Rico, the No. 10 Wolverines defeated No. 17 Temple and the Puerto Rican
National team.

Illinois’ Big Ten foe won the
team title in every event except for pommel horse. Led by freshman Anthony
McCallum, who finished first on still rings and parallel bars, three other
Wolverines took home individual crowns on its way to victory in the three-way
meet.

After a strong showing at Calle
Julio Perez Irizarry, it is clear that Michigan will try to keep its momentum
going against the fifth-ranked Illini, but freshman Alex Diab believes having
the home crowd behind his team will work out in their favor.

“Being at home with home fans
will build our energy and confidence even higher,” Diab said. “If we have that,
and perform like we did last weekend, we will be a very hard team to beat.”

The 5-foot-2 all-arounder
recorded career highs on all six events during Illinois’s record-setting day
against Air Force and California, but just like his head coach, Diab will expect
more from his team this Saturday.

“I am very happy with our scores
(from last week), but that does not mean we are done,” Diab said.” We have to
continue to build off of this … if we want to be a Big Ten championship team.

“I think we will be able to beat
that record sometime soon.”

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