Title run ends for Spring's squad

MINNEAPOLIS — The Illinois men’s gymnastics team no longer sits atop the Big Ten.

For the first time since 2008, the Illini failed to bring home a conference championship.

Trying to win its fifth straight conference championship, Illinois instead wound up in fifth place at the seven-team event Friday night.

“I think we expected to do well, and when we didn’t, it kind of shatters your world a little bit,” Illinois coach Justin Spring said. “We’ve got to take what we learned from this and use it moving forward. We’re going to throw some curveballs at them in practice the next couple weeks and let them see how they react before the NCAA (Championships).”

It is the worst finish for Illinois, last year’s NCAA champion, at the Big Ten meet since winding up in fifth place at the 2007 meet, which was the last time Minneapolis hosted the conference showdown.

Michigan won the team title for the first time since 2000 after accumulating 438.900 points, well ahead of the Illini’s total of 424.450 at the Sports Pavilion on the Minnesota campus.

Illinois was vying to become the first Big Ten team to win five straight titles since Minnesota accomplished the feat from 1976 to ’80.

Instead, Spring’s squad will have to regroup before tonight’s individual event finals, its last competition before the NCAA Championships arrive in two weeks at Penn State.

“It was a perfect storm of circumstances coming at our team with such a high of last year’s title and having some tough injuries to overcome at the start of this year,” Spring said. “We’ve identified what we need to do moving forward, but to try and correct it this late in the season, it’s going to be tough to do.”

Mike Wilner placed first in the rings with a score of 15.550 and Fred Hartville finished with the same score in the vault to claim a first-place effort, but it wasn’t enough to push Illinois past Penn State (434.050), Minnesota (430.350) and Ohio State (426.600) in an attempt to catch Michigan.

Alex Varga tied for third in the floor (15.400) while Logan Bradley (pommel horse) and  Cameron Rogers (parallel bars) were seventh. Yoshi Mori was fourth in the all-around.

“I’m proud of the way we fought back, but the damage was already done on the (pommel) horse and rings,” Spring said. “We got the life sucked out of us on high bar. You can’t have hit percentages like that in any sport.”

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