STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — All the Illinois men’s gymnastics team wanted was a chance.
Justin Spring’s squad got it, and now the Illini will try to defend their NCAA title tonight after qualifying for the team finals Friday.
Illinois placed third in its semifinal session with a score of 426.900 to nab a spot in tonight’s six-team finals along with Iowa, Michigan, Penn State, Oklahoma and Stanford.
“I’m relieved but not surprised that we’re here,” Spring said. “I certainly was nervous, but I expect my team to go out and hit.”
A strong showing in the rings allowed Illinois to come away with the third qualifying spot out of its six-team session. The Illini scored a 74.350 on that event, which was the second-highest score on that apparatus in their session.
Mike Wilner led Illinois with a 15.300 to tie for second, Cameron Rogers tallied a career-high 15.200 and Joey Peters came through with a 15.150.
A score of 73.200 in the vault, the second-highest score all season by Illinois, contributed to the Illini’s advancement after Fred Hartville placed fifth (15.100) and Josh Wilson came in ninth (14.800).
Those two events, coupled with a steady performance on floor exercise, allowed Illinois to overcome rough efforts in the parallel bars (68.800) and pommel horse (66.200). Yoshi Mori competed in the all-around and finished fourth with a total of 81.300.
“Pommel horse was unexpected,” Spring said. “You don’t plan on hitting half a routine out of five. A couple misses are to be expected, but our pommel horse performance was uncharacteristic, (but) I knew we could battle back and do our job.”
In women’s gymnastics:
No finals in store. The Illini failed to finish in the top three of their semifinal session, posting a score of 195.700 to place fifth out of six teams in Los Angeles.
Florida, LSU and Georgia all advanced out of the session into tonight’s finals at UCLA.
Illinois had its best showing in floor exercise with a score of 49.200, led by a 9.900 by Alina Weinstein, but that team score only tied for fourth in the session. Weinstein finished in a tie for first in the event.
Weinstein’s score of 9.875 in the vault paced Illinois and left her tied for 14th. She fin-
ished 15th in the all-around with a total of 38.500.
Sunny Kato also chipped in for Illinois with a score of 9.850 on the balance beam to tie for 11th. Giana O’Connor and Amber See tied for 12th in the floor exercise (9.850).