IOWA CITY, Iowa — It wasn't perfect, but they'll take it. Justin Spring's Illinois men's gymnastics team claimed its fourth straight Big Ten championship, outlasting runner-up Penn State 352.950-350.000 on Friday at Iowa. The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 1 in the country.
"We did not have a good meet; I don't think any team had a perfect meet. We made some big mistakes here and there, but they turned it on in the last events and clinched a win," Spring said. "It was a very, very pressurized situation, and they stepped up and it was fantastic to see."
Freshman C.J. Maestas won the all-around title, setting a school record on the rings with a mark of 15.850 in the process.
"C.J. Maestas is your quintessential gamer. He handled some of the heavy pressure and did it beautifully," Spring said. "Every routine, he hit; every routine we counted from him. For a freshman, the leadership coming out of this young man is unprecedented. We can't wait to keep him around for three years after this."
Maestas had some familiar company atop the leaderboard. Teammate Yoshi Mori was the runner-up, and Paul Ruggeri finished third.
"That was great to see," Spring said. "Even though Paul made some big mistakes and he's got some points to gain, and we're going to work on those things. He fell during his best event, which is the high bar, and that was devastating for his all-around. But he turned it around on the floor, and that speaks to Paul's character and he had a huge floor routine.
"He's going to get it turned around and be a contender for the all-around at the NCAA Championships."
Spring and the fourth-ranked Illini now turn their focus to the NCAA meet in two weeks. Illinois last won a national title in 1989.
"This is a big checkpoint along the bigger picture of the season. I know every one of these guys has their eyes set on (the NCAA title)," Spring said. "This is great momentum. We're going to have to step up if we're going to have a legitimate shot at winning a national title."
Illini drop pair, get no-hit. Nebraska's Ashley Hagemann struck out 11 en route to firing a no-hitter as the host Cornhuskers (23-14, 6-2 Big Ten) defeated Illinois 11-0 in Lincoln, Neb. Jackie Guy was the only Illini to reach base, walking twice. Illinois (16-17, 2-6) dropped the second game 5-1 despite two hits from leadoff hitter Alex Booker. Guy had a hit and drove in a run in the sixth inning, Illinois' first in 31 innings.
In men's tennis:
Michigan tops Illini. Roy Kalmanovich, Bruno Abdelnour and Farris Gosea all picked up singles wins, but the 18th-ranked Illini dropped their first Big Ten match of the season, a 4-3 loss to Michigan (12-5, 5-1) at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex.
Illinois (11-4, 5-1) lost the doubles point but got a win from the team of Gosea and Stephen Hoh.