IOWA CITY, Iowa — Winning a Big Ten title doesn't necessarily mean a national championship follows.
But of the 10 national titles in Illinois men's gymnastics history, nine have happened after the Illini finished first in the league. The only exception to this was in 1940 when the Illini placed second in the Big Ten before winning the program's second national title later that season.
Illinois coach Justin Spring can only hope his current team can glean a lesson from the history books later this month.
The Illini finished second at the seven-team Big Ten Meet on Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, narrowly losing to Penn State. The Nittany Lions accumulated 410.350 points, just ahead of the 410.100 that Illinois had.
"These are the ones that the guys and I will relive 1,000 times in our brains," Spring said. "We thought we had it after we closed really strong, but it just kind of got swiped out from under us. It was such a shock and such a momentum swing."
The result Friday night meant no repeat Big Ten championship for Illinois after the Illini won the program's 28th conference championship last April. The Illini did receive first-place performances from Michael Paradise on pommel horse and Alex Diab on rings, along with second-place showings from Michael Fletcher on vault, Sebastian Quiana on parallel bars and Hamish Carter on high bar.
"We had some pretty uncharacteristic mistakes, but they really ended well on high bar," Spring said. "High bar is where you can have a meltdown, and we closed like champions. It just wasn't there in the end."
Now, the focus shifts to tonight's event finals at the Big Ten Meet before Illinois plays hosts to the NCAA championships on April 19-20 at State Farm Center.
"I'm trying to bring some perspective to the guys, but it's tough," Spring said. "When we go back and look at this, we'll say, 'What could we have done better?' I knew we could have won this thing. The whole team felt the same way."