Justin Spring: “I’m relieved but I’m not surprised that we’re here. That’s a different emotion.”
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Defending champion Illinois, Michigan and Oklahoma will compete for the NCAA men’s gymnastics team title Saturday night at Penn State.
Three other qualifiers for the final round will be determined Friday night. Top-ranked Penn State, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Iowa, No. 9 California and No. 13 Temple were to compete in the later session.
Air Force, Nebraska and Minnesota failed to advance from the afternoon session.
Third-ranked Michigan scored 443.850 points, 10 better than No. 2 Oklahoma. Seventh-ranked Illinois was third with 426.900.
The NCAA is using a five-up, five-count format instead of the six-up four-count used in past championship events. Five gymnasts per team compete in each of the six events and all scores count. Coaches of the three qualifying teams agreed that the format helps bring interest to the sport.
“The level of performance is better and it makes all the routines that are on the floor meaningful,” said Oklahoma coach Mark Williams. “I think it leaves some doubt even as you go into the last event who will be the champion.”
Michigan coach Kurt Golder listed one drawback to the format.
“I like that everything counts,” Golder said. “What I don’t like about it is a guy who competes really hard and could maybe be an All-American, but because his team is so good he doesn’t get an opportunity to compete. That five-up, five-count denies opportunities.”
Illinois performed poorly on pommel horse early in the round with a 66.2, but scored well in the five other events. Minnesota earned only 65.850 on pommel horse. Illinois, the defending NCAA champion, finished third ahead of Minnesota by 2.2 points.
“I was nervous,” coach Justin Spring said. “I expect my team to go out and hit. Pommel horse was unexpected. I’m relieved but I’m not surprised that we’re here. That’s a different emotion.”
Michigan lost to Penn State and Oklahoma in regular-season dual meets, but earned a favorite’s role among competing coaches when it outscored Penn State in the Big Ten championships.
“We hit about 90 percent, we had two mistakes, and we’ll try to eliminate those tomorrow,” Michigan’s Golder said. “As far as today’s performance I was very pleased with it.
“We haven’t been consistent all year; Big Tens was our highest hit percentage this year.”
One reason the Wolverines hit was Olympian Sam Mikulak. A 2011 NCAA high bar champ and all-around runner-up, Mikulak posted scores of 15.1 on floor exercise, 14.850 on pommel horse, 14.9 on vault, 15.5 on parallel bars and 15.550 on high bar.
“I think today went very well,” Mikulak said. Our mindset for the whole team is to go in, be calm, not get too rowdy, make sure that we’re saving ourselves for tomorrow. I think everyone was like, hey, let’s go in like this was a practice day at the gym and do what we do in the gym.”