Four Illini Qualify for NCAA Event Finals
April 20, 2013
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Illinois freshman Joey Peters earned All-America status in the all-around, and four Orange and Blue gymnasts advanced to NCAA Event Finals, but the Illinois men's gymnastics team struggled during NCAA Team Finals Saturday night at Penn State's Recreation Building, placing sixth of six with a season-low 422.550. Michigan claimed the crown with a 443.200, followed by Oklahoma (440.100), Stanford (436.150), Penn State (436.100), Iowa (426.450) and Illinois.
"Tonight was rough and indicative of how our season went with great highs and some very unfortunate lows," head coach Justin Spring said. "It was a combination of a lot of things. We lost nearly 18 routines from last year, and we had a lot of guys trying to pull a lot more weight in a very unforgiving format. We had a lot of mistakes, but I think the big win is that we made it to the second day and kept that qualifying streak alive. We'll come back next year a lot hungrier. We're leaving with a sour taste in our mouths, but that will lead to some good training over the summer."
Peters placed eighth in the all-around with an 84.750, the second-highest all-around mark of his career. With his top-eight finish, the Danville, Pa., native garnered All-America honors, marking the fifth straight year Illinois has produced at least one All-American in the all-around.
Meanwhile, fellow freshman and reigning Big Ten vault champion Fred Hartville battled back after a fall on floor to stick his vault and notch a 15.300, securing a runner-up finish and a spot in Sunday afternoon's event finals.
"Fred has been doing it on vault for us all year," Spring said. "He had an unfortunate mistake on floor but has always showed up big for us on vault, and he did it again today."
Three other Illini finished in the top 10 on various events, including fifth-year senior and 2012 high bar All-American Austin Phillips, who tied for fourth on high bar with a 14.700, earning his second career trip to NCAA Event Finals. Sophomore Mike Wilner tied for eighth on rings with a 15.350 to advance to event finals for the first time in his career, while senior Vince Smurro placed ninth on floor with a 15.050 to secure his first career NCAA Event Finals appearance.
Despite Phillips' fourth-place finish on high bar, the Illini got off to a shaky start on that event in the first rotation, posting a 68.950, which was the lowest high bar score by any team in the meet.
Illinois could not recover on floor in the following rotation, totaling a 71.450, which was the Illini's third-lowest floor score of the season and the second-lowest floor score of the day. Although the team struggled, Smurro's ninth-place finish highlighted the rotation, and senior Yoshi Mori finished just outside the top 10, tying for 11th with a 14.850 to earn the alternate spot in floor finals.
In the third rotation, the Illini posted their third-lowest pommel horse score (67.900) of the season and the second-lowest of the meet, and the team could not get back on track on rings, scoring a 73.850. Wilner's eighth-place performance led the squad, but Illinois' mark was the second-lowest of any team in the meet once again.
The Orange and Blue secured a 72.200 on vault, but Hartville's second-place finish was not enough to put Illinois out of fifth place as a team on that event. The Illini finished the night on parallel bars with their second-lowest score (68.200) on that apparatus this season and the lowest parallel bars score of the meet.
The top 10 finishers on each apparatus advanced to NCAA Event Finals. Hartville (vault), Phillips (high bar), Wilner (rings) and Smurro (floor) will compete for national titles Sunday, beginning at 1 p.m. CT. NCAA.com will stream the meet live.