Illinois' national title hopes dashed

Illinois' national title hopes dashed

CHICAGO — Either way, the men's gymnastics season was going to end on Saturday night for Illinois.

It just didn't conclude with a national title the Illini so desperately wanted to leave UIC Pavilion with.

Illinois finished third at the NCAA Championships held in front of a pro-Illini crowd, falling short to national champion Oklahoma and runner-up Minnesota. The Sooners compiled 414.858 points to win their fourth consecutive national title, while the Illini accumulated a score of 411.689. Minnesota (411.923) eclipsed Illinois on the floor, the final rotation at Saturday night's six-team meet, for second place.

It's the second straight year the Illini have placed third at the NCAA meet.

"There's been a lot of teary-eyed hugs and just a whirlwind of emotions," Illinois coach Justin Spring said. "We gave away a championship. When it comes down to it, that's what happened because we were right on Oklahoma's heels. We knew we could afford one or two falls, but not five or six or however many it ended up being."

One silver lining for Illinois, which entered this weekend ranked second in the country behind Oklahoma and fresh off a Big Ten title two weeks ago, was Alex Diab.

The junior from Glen Ellyn won a national title in the still rings with a score of 14.500, becoming the 58th individual champion in program history and the third to do so in rings. The fact Diab, a three-time Big Ten champion in the event, achieved the national title this year is overdue, according to Spring.

"It's about time he put it together at the national meet," Spring said with a laugh. "I knew there was an opening because he didn't stick his landing, so I was very worried about that, but I'm so happy for him. He worked for this."

Even with Diab's individual accomplishment, the overall sentiment and emotion the Illini felt late Saturday night wasn't what they hoped for when they arrived in Chicago.

Especially when Spring looks at his roster and realizes key contributors like Bobby Baker, Tyson Bull, Chandler Eggleston and Brandon Ngai are out of eligibility.

"We're losing a massive class of seniors," Spring said. "Not to say we can't get back to be in this spot next year, but we're going to be a different team."The wait for an 11th national team title will continue into 2019. Spring and Co. will try to earn the program's first national title since 2012 next April when State Farm Center hosts the NCAA Meet.

But that fact wasn't weighing on Spring's mind on Saturday night. Checking in on his seniors and coming to grips with another close miss at a national title was.

"This one is going to sting for a long time," Spring said. "There's no other way to put it."

 Justin Spring

It's been a lot of teary-eyed hugs and just a whirlwind of emotion. We gave away a championship. When it comes down to it, we were right on Oklahoma's heels.

We started off on one of the best notes. We had a little slip up on rings.That's where the critical mistakes started. Three too many huge swings. We knew we couldn't afford one or two falls, not five or six. It was about four too many, and we had them.This one is going to sting for a long time. There's no other way to put it.It was a good season, but we're losing a massive class of seniors. We're going to be a very diff. team. We had some powerful gymnasts this year ,and we just didn't quite put it together.Men's gymnastics is just next-level ridiculous as far as pressure and expectations. Coupled with the fact they're college atletse and on the one day, they're expected to be perfect. This is their Olympic Games. It takes a special kind of character and hit in the moment when you need to.Even some of the greatest athletes.Tyson walks by and just poor kid. One fo the greatest gymnasts ever and that says a lot bc we've had an unbelievalbe amount of those. We just couldn't put it togeter

Just. That's tough. I feel for my seniros because I go back to the drawing board, but they don't. They left their college careers and to know they left something on the floor. Bobby was in tears. Chandler and Brandon was emotionless. It's so damn bittersweet.

Alex is a national champion and still excited, but so devastated for the team. That's how I feel and it's going to feel that way for a while.Just things like that.It's about time he put it together at the national finals. he's a three-time Big Ten champ and this year, he did the squeaking. I knew that was an openign, so I was very worried about it. I'm so happy for him. He worked for this.

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