Rogers, Spring claim individual titles; five Illlini become All-Americans
CHAMPAIGN – Sunday''s individual event finals at the NCAA Men''s Gymnastics Championships represented a chance for the Illini to go out in glory at the Assembly Hall.
But Illinois coach Yoshi Hayasaki couldn''t have imagined this type of glory.
Senior Bob Rogers won pommel horse and sophomore Justin Spring captured the high bar competition, the first time since 1958 that Illinois had two champions. The honors, though, didn''t stop there.
Five different Illini collected All-America status (top-six finish), the first time that''s happened since 1957. In all, Illinois had seven All-America placings, with Spring and Adam Pummer each taking a pair.
"That shows how strong we are in certain events," said Rogers, who won a pommel horse competition for the first time this season. "We''ve been training hard all year for this. It didn''t work out (Saturday, Illinois finishing third), but we came in today and showed the country we''re still legit and to be afraid of some of these guys coming back next year."
The highlights started on the first event, pommel horse. The last to compete, Rogers nailed his routine and shook his fist immediately after he finished. His score, 9.775, was a career high, and he became the school''s first pommel horse champ since David Stoldt in 1980.
Rogers also became the first Illini to win any individual crown since Travis Romagnoli in 1998.
"To work so hard all your life to do this, and to finally make national champion your senior year is like a dream come true," Rogers said.
Big Ten champion Ben Newman (9.575) was fourth and teammate Peter Shostchuk (9.525) was fifth, giving him All-America honors for the third straight year.
"I try not to pay attention to what the other guys were doing, but I knew I had the opportunity to win. The door was open for me," Rogers said. The highest score had been a 9.687.
"It made me a little bit nervous, standing there knowing that I have an easy shot at a national championship," he said. "I just tried to calm myself down. Going last is a slight advantage if you can handle the pressure."
Spring also went last in high bar, in which he''s ranked fourth. His routine was solid, marred only by a slight hop on his dismount, and earned a 9.775, which edged runners-up Graham Ackerman of California and Dan Gill of Stanford, both of whom scored 9.737.
"I''m accustomed to going last," said Spring, the school''s first high bar champ since 1984. "High bar''s always the last event, and I''m the last guy in our lineup. The pressure''s usually on. I think that''s been very helpful in getting me used to stressful situations. And high bar''s my favorite event."
That capped an afternoon to remember.
"Everybody did extremely well today," Hayasaki said. "To have two national champions in the same year is just unbelievable. I''m especially happy for Bob Rogers, being a senior. And pommel horse was tough. He could have lost to one of our team members. We have a really good pommel horse team, and I felt one of those guys was going to win."
Pummer''s honors were earned with a second-place finish in vault (9.637) and a tie for sixth in floor exercise (9.312). Spring was fifth on parallel bars (9.0) and seventh in vault (9.3).
All but Rogers will return next season. The Illini also lose Scott Wetterling from the regular rotation, along with four other event specialists.
But the incoming freshman class, including Hoopeston''s Jon Drol-linger, is strong.
"We''re bringing six freshmen in, and they''re an extremely talented group of gymnasts," Hayasaki said. "We had some weak events this year. Rings are weak, and we had problems with parallel bars. But next year''s team is going to be very strong in all six events."
Other event winners Sunday: Ackerman in floor exercise (9.687) and vault (9.687), Penn State''s Kevin Tan on still rings (9.812) and William & Mary''s Ramon Jackson on parallel bars (9.2).
You can reach Tony Bleill at (217) 351-5605 or via e-mail at email@example.com.