Illini gymnasts upset No. 1
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois coach Justin Spring didn't want to downplay his men's gymnastics team's come-from-behind victory Saturday against No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 7 Michigan.
But the Illini coach admitted he was resting a handful of his gymnasts — national team members who are gearing up for next week's Winter Cup, an event that will help determine the U.S. team that will compete in the 2012 London Olympics.
"I know they were fighting it because they wanted to go big against Oklahoma, No. 1," Spring said after his second-ranked Illini rallied for a 349.800-347.700 win in front of a raucous crowd at the Assembly Hall. No. 7 Michigan scored a 339.100 to finish third in the triangular.
Illinois trailed the Sooners by nearly two points heading into the final rotation but received a school-record 16.000 high bar performance from Paul Ruggeri — on a "watered-down routine," as Spring put it — to lead a 1-2-3 Illini finish in the event.
"Paul is one of the best guys on high bar in the entire world. Not the NCAA, the world," Spring said. "He certainly showed that today."
The Illini weren't at their best. Neither were the Sooners.
"I don't think anyone had a great meet by any means. Oklahoma or Michigan, either," Spring said. "We were behind Oklahoma the entire match. And then it was kind of a huge turnaround. The guys really rallied on the last event. The guys really had almost a perfect rotation there at the end."
Spring says he thinks the Illini will take over the No. 1 spot when the new poll is released Tuesday.
"We should, I believe so," said Spring, who added he isn't worried about the Illini's ranking nearly three months from the national championship.
"I look at it as we have a lot more improvement to make. The guys know that," he said. "We want to make sure we're the best team when it counts at the end of the season."
One thing that impressed Spring was the crowd at Huff Hall.
"The crowd was really into it. The energy in Huff Hall was at an all-time high, at least as long as I've been here," said Spring, a former Illini gymnast who has been around the program since 2002.