Illinois defeats Minnesota in regular season finale
March 22, 2021
The Illinois men’s gymnastics team faced Minnesota on Monday night for the final regular season meet in the more than 80-year history of the teams’ series. Aside from the unfortunate context of the meet, both teams were hoping to end their regular seasons with a win and enter the postseason with some momentum.
In the end, it was the Illini who pulled off a narrow 393.800-392.800 win over the Golden Gophers. The Illini finish the regular season with a 4-3 record (3-3 in Big Ten competition).
“It turned into a battle,” said head coach Justin Spring. “It was a meet we could’ve given away, but we didn’t. So, I’m really proud of the guys for that.”
Illinois had a rocky start to the meet on pommel horse, scoring 62.200, which is four points lower than its team season-high on that apparatus. But Minnesota had an even worse pommel horse rotation, scoring 58.400. Combined with a decent floor exercise rotation, Illinois led Minnesota by five points after the first two rotations, a lead Illinois wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the meet.
“We both had terrible pommel horse days,” Spring said. “I certainly didn’t expect them to do that. Minnesota could’ve easily gone five for five, and we could’ve lost this meet by seven points because of that. We opened a door, and they opened the same door for us.”
Redshirt senior Tommy Mistretta claimed his second career pommel horse title with a career-best tying score of 13.700 while Connor McCool claimed his second floor exercise title of the season with a score of 14.400. Sophomore Josh Cook set a career high 14.300 on floor to claim second, while junior all-arounder Michael Fletcher placed third.
Fletcher would later earn his first-ever still rings title with a career-high 14.000 on that apparatus, while freshman Logan Myers placed second with a career-best tying 13.700. Fletcher also came away with the all-around title for the second-time of his career. On vault, sophomore Evan Manivong won his fourth vault title of the season with a career-best tying 14.750.
Graduate gymnast Danny Graham usually dominates on still rings, but he uncharacteristically finished in sixth place, something he attributed to the three-week break he had after he contracted COVID-19.
“Not my best stuff,” he said. “Taking more than three weeks off, that doesn’t help, especially with rings. I’m happy I got to do the routine, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Though Illinois led by almost 10 points halfway through the meet, Minnesota would chip away at that lead for the remainder of the meet. Entering the final rotation of the meet, with Illinois on parallel bars, the lead had shrunk to 1.3 points. Illinois’ performance on parallel bars has been somewhat of an issue all year, but the team performed well, and thanks in part to a career-high 13.600 from senior Joel Diaz, Illinois held on for the one-point victory.
“I’m proud of how we fought on P bars at the end,” Graham said. “We had one mistake, but we fought on P bars to get the dub, which I was really happy with.”