Illinois trio pommels the competition in league event finals

CHAMPAIGN – The Illinois men''s gymnastics team has a reputation – and the No. 1 ranking to back it up – as the nation''s best in pommel horse competition.

On Saturday, at the event finals of the Big Ten championships at Huff Hall, Illinois proved nobody in the conference can compare.

Ben Newman, Bob Rogers and Ted Brown swept the top three places as the Illini followed Friday''s team title with a strong showing in the individual event finals.

"Isn''t that amazing?" said UI coach Yoshi Hayasaki, who received his third Big Ten Coach of the Year award. "And Peter Shostchuk, last year''s pommel horse All-American, didn''t even make it to the finals. We could have gone 1-2-3-4 in that event. That''s how good our pommel horse team is."

Illinois had four of the eight finalists.

"It''s just an honor to be a part of the best pommel horse team in the country," said Brown, a sophomore who transferred from Springfield (Mass.) College. "And we proved that."

While Illinois was tearing up the pommel horse, sophomore Justin Spring was winning the floor exercise. Later, Spring took second in high bar, Newman was third in still rings and Scott Wetterling tied for third in the vault.

But the pommel horse routines stole the evening. Brown was the first Illini to compete, posting a career-high 9.625 to juice the crowd and his teammates.

"I feel I did the best I could have done and did the best routine I did all year," Brown said.

Four gymnasts later, Newman – the Big Ten''s defending champion – stepped forward and scored a 9.8. He is the first back-to-back pommel horse champ since 1989-90.

"Today was icing on the cake," Newman said. "I felt a little bit of pressure because of last year, and because our team is so strong I was worried Bob was going to pull it out. So I knew I had to hit my set clean."

Moments later, Rogers matched his career high with a 9.75.

Meanwhile, the nation''s top-ranked gymnast in floor exercise, Spring, was ready to excite the crowd.

He finished a flawless performance by nailing the landing on his final tumbling pass, and he immediately raised his clenched fists to mark the occasion.

"I was excited," said Spring, the first UI titlist in floor exercise since Chris McKee in 1989. "I''ve been doing that routine for two years now; the same three passes for two years. That''s the (pass) yesterday that I messed up, and I was all over the place. Today it just fell into place, and I was just excited that I finally put it all together in one routine."

His 9.725 was nearly 0.3 better than runner-up Michael McNamara of Iowa. Rogers was fifth and Adam Pummer seventh in the event.

Spring scored a 9.55 on high bar to finish second to Ohio State''s Ronald Ferris (9.65).

You can reach Tony Bleill at (217) 351-5605 or via e-mail at tbleill@news-gazette.com.

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