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This weekend, Justin Spring can accomplish something no coach has in the rich history of Illini men's gymnastics.
Not Hartley Price and Charlie Pond, each U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame inductees. Not Yoshi Hayasaki, the program's winningest coach and a former collegiate national coach of the year. Even they did not win a Big Ten Championships title in their first try, something that's within the grasp of first-year head coach Spring.
The No. 3 Illini enter the two-day meet, which begins Friday at Columbus, Ohio, as the highest-ranked team in the six-school field.
A year ago, in one of the most memorable finishes in meet history, Illinois rallied from a 2.35-point deficit in its final rotation to tie Michigan for the league crown. Don't be surprised if the Illini and No. 4 Michigan again duke it out for the 2010 title. They've met twice this year, Illinois outscoring the runner-up Wolverines in the season-opening Windy City Invitational. In a March 13 rematch in Champaign, however, Michigan prevailed by one point to hand the Illini their lone loss of the season.
The Big Ten team and all-around titles will be decided Friday. Individual event champions are to be crowned on Saturday. Illini junior Paul Ruggeri (floor exercise, parallel bars) and senior Luke Stannard (pommel horse) are defending event champions.