COLUMBUS, Ohio — As a coach, all you can ask is that your team performs its best when the stage is biggest. After Friday, Illinois men's gymnastics coach Justin Spring has no complaints about his group.
The Illini didn't win the NCAA title — they finished third to champion Stanford and runner-up Oklahoma — but did so with a season-high score of 360.150.
"Obviously it's kind of rough because we had an amazing competition. But for this team to come out after the ups and downs we had this year, we came out and had a great score at the Big Ten and then had a season best at the final meet of the year in the NCAA Championships, and for this team to have a podium finish is incredible," Spring said. "I couldn't have asked for a better day from these athletes. They did everything that we needed them to do on the day we needed them to do it."
It was a back-and-forth contest between the top three finishers, with each team holding the lead at one point during the final rotations.
The Illini entered the final rotation still needing to perform on the pommel horse, the event in which they ranked No. 1 in the country. Stanford's start values proved to be too much.
"Stanford, we knew was a better team because of their start values. Their scores had high potential," Spring said. "In this kind of sport, all you can ask is that you do your best."
No Illini performed better than Tyler Mizoguchi. The junior earned his second straight All-America honor in the all-around, finishing second (90.150) to Michigan's Sam Mikulak (90.750).
"He has come so far. I'm so proud of Tyler to step up," Spring said of Mizoguchi, who scored a meet-high 15.600 on the parallel bars. "He was a big backbone of this team all season and obviously today. He kept great energy, kept a level head on him throughout the competition and he hit all six of his events today for us. He's really grown, and we're gonna look to him for some great big scores all next year."
This marks the sixth time the Illini have finished in the top three since winning the NCAA title in 1989. Looking into Spring's crystal ball, the title drought could end as soon as next season.
"OU and Stanford are losing some huge athletes," Spring said. "We lost our big athlete this year, Paul Ruggeri (ankle injury), and we're getting him back. He's redshirting and he's gonna compete for us next year. If we get the recruits that we're supposed to be getting next year, I absolutely think we'll be the favorite next year."
Illinois' Craig Padera finished second to Mizoguchi on the parallel bars, and Daniel Ribeiro was the top finisher on the pommel horse.