Illini earn first league title since 2012

Illini earn first league title since 2012

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Justin Spring didn't know exactly how the Illinois men's gymnastics team he coaches would celebrate Friday night.

But the Illini would celebrate.

Winning a Big Ten title merits a reason to let loose for a bit.

Three straight runner-up finishes went away at Crisler Center as the Illini stayed consistent throughout and clinched the program's first league championship since 2012.

"It was so much hard work and building over the years," Spring said. "It's been a grind, and pretty annoying, getting second so many times recently. This is a pretty unreal feeling."

The individual part of the Big Ten championships is slated for tonight, but all Spring and the Illini worried about Friday night was their team win.

Illinois compiled a season-high score of 413.800 to hold off runner-up and host Michigan at the seven-team event, collecting the program's 28th Big Ten title in the process.

"The guys couldn't care less about the individual finals at the moment, to be honest," Spring said. "It's been all about the team. That's always been our focus."

Brandon Ngai started the night off strong for the Illini by posting the best score on the pommel horse with a 15.000.

"Ngai just destroyed the field with his routine," Spring said. "That saved us."

Tyson Bull, Chandler Eggleston and Bobby Baker compiled the top three scores on the high bar, helping the Illini show the resiliency that Spring said defines this group.

And Friday night's accomplishment might just be foreshadowing of what's to come. After all, the last time Illinois won a Big Ten title in 2012, a national title followed a few weeks later.

The Illini can set their sights on this year's NCAA meet — set for April 20-21 at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago — once they arrive back in Champaign.

"Last time we won, I was just so young and had such a talented team, I don't think I fully embraced the moment," Spring said. "Having to wait all these years to get back here, it just makes this one so sweet."