CHAMPAIGN – In March Madness terms, it was the equivalent of losing on a jump shot at the buzzer.
Illinois'' Justin Spring carried the lead into the final event of the all-around standings at Friday''s Big Ten Championships, but defending champion Randy Monahan of Ohio State emerged with the title – by 0.075.
"Ridiculous," Spring said good-naturedly. "What can I say? I had my ups and downs, and I think Randy did as well."
Monahan, ranked No. 1 nationally in the all-around, scored a 9.65 on his last event, floor exercise. Spring, meanwhile, posted a 9.325 on the vault. Taking a step on his landing probably cost him the title.
"I didn''t know the exact score, but I knew it was close, and I figured Justin was having a pretty good meet," Monahan said. "I saw his vault, and I knew I had to do a good routine."
Monahan finished with 55.675 and Spring at 55.600, smashing his own school record.
"I actually think it''s good for me," Spring said. "This is just going to get me to really focus in the gym. I''m going to train that much harder because I want to be there."
Senior Mike Filla''s pommel horse routine seemed to fuel the UI''s momentum in the middle of the meet. Filla was mobbed by teammates after the dismount and the crowd showed its approval when the score, 9.5, was revealed.
It was Filla''s career best – by a whopping 0.4.
"I did a lot of specific training on the parts I was having trouble with the past two weeks," Filla said. "The energy from the crowd and seeing the momentum that had built up, it was unbelievable."
Filla''s effort was one of many key performances from unheralded Illini.
"In order to win the championship, everybody had to step up," coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. "Mike Filla had an excellent meet today. Everybody contributed in some way."
The an-nounced attendance was 783, and though Ohio State and Minnesota brought considerable cheering blocs, the Illini got a boost from the home folks.
"The crowd always makes a difference," Spring said. "It wasn''t as big as we''d hoped, but it''s spring break. College gymnastics is exciting for that reason: The fans get loud. This is what every athlete loves, that crowd, being at home."
The Illini will host the NCAA championships April 2-4 at the Assembly Hall.