Big Ten champs eyeing NCAA title
Read about the baseball team's Big Ten opener here.
CHAMPAIGN — Minutes after his Illinois men's gymnastics team had clinched its third straight Big Ten title, Justin Spring already had his eye on a bigger prize.
An NCAA title that last belonged to the Illini in 1989.
"It's exciting," the second-year Illini head coach said following his alma mater's threepeat feat Friday night at Huff Hall. "It takes me back. This program was very dominant in the '80s. But we want this big one. I know this (league title) is just going to create that hunger."
With the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio, still two weeks off, No. 4 Illinois has plenty of time to first relish its historic accomplishment within the league. The Illini had not won three straight Big Ten titles since coach Charlie Pond's dynastic UI program ran off 11 straight from 1950 to '60.
And Illinois still has some unfinished business within the conference before its thoughts can turn to the NCAA meet. Six titles will be at stake at 7 tonight when the Big Ten individual event finals are contested in the Illini's home gym.
Despite some rough moments in their final two events Friday night, the Illini had enough cushion through four rotations to hold on to the team title. Illinois totaled 355.550 points to finish almost three points ahead of runner-up Michigan (352.750).
Three Illini fell in the team's final event, high bar. One rotation earlier, Tyler Mizoguchi, who entered ranked No. 2 in the NCAA in parallel bars, also lost his grip early in his routine and ended up with a season-low score of 13.300.
"After the first two guys on high bar (fell), we were sweating a little bit," Spring said. "But the whole theme of the meet was average gymnastics. We don't need to do perfect gymnastics. There's gonna be mistakes. We're gonna have ups and downs.
"It was a little nerve-racking that our biggest mistakes and most of our mistakes happened right on the last event. That made it a little bit of a nail-biter. But the guys that did have the mistakes got right back on and finished. They kept their energy and head up and finished strong. And that was big."
Two Illini finished with the top scores in their events. Daniel Ribeiro earned a 15.850 in pommel horse, and Chad Wiest led in floor exercise at 15.500.
Mizoguchi scored a career-high 16.300 in the vault — the second-highest score in the event in UI history — to help boost Illinois from third place into first in the team standings with two rotations left. Only current senior Paul Ruggeri, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in early February, has posted an all-time higher mark (16.350) for Illinois.
Mizoguchi placed second in vault and floor exercise and finished third in the all-around, which was won by Michigan's Sam Mikulak.
The Wolverines were without 2010 NCAA and Big Ten all-around champion Chris Cameron. A school spokesman said last year's Big Ten Gymnast of the Year "did not make the lineup and didn't make the trip with the team."