It was an up-and-down roller coaster ride for the Illini on Saturday but they were able to edge Minnesota 416.5-413.75. Illinois struggled mightily on pommel horse (66.4) and posted a season-low on parallel bars (66.35). "We had an uncharacteristic meltdown on PH and PB," described head coach Justin Spring. "I think that bad energy caught fire a little bit and got away from us on those events."
Still, it wasn't something a little high bar magic couldn't fix as Illinois was able to clinch the meet with a 71.2 on the final event.
"I think they got really upset and fired up after parallel bars; they attacked high bar and crushed it." - Justin Spring
After two weekends that went smoothly for the Illini, some struggles were to be expected. However, if this team wants to make the jump past Stanford, the back end of their pommel horse lineup will need to step up. "I'm not panicked about it [pommel horse]," said Spring. "But we've got to be better and I expect it not to happen again."
Sophomore Alex Diab (B1G Gymnast of the Week) starred for the Illini, earning the rings title with a 14.9 and producing good numbers on floor (14.5), vault (14.25) and high bar (14.2).
Although they didn't take home a victory, Minnesota took yet another step forward on Saturday, recording a season-best team score. Vitali Kan continued his breakout year winning a title on vault (14.85) and producing solid numbers on floor (14.4), pommel horse (13.6) and rings (13.3) as well. It also seems that the Golden Gophers have gotten some much needed help on rings (they rank 10th in NCAA) in the form of Mitchell Soukup who went 14.45.
The only thing standing in the way of more improvement for this team is the absence of standout senior, Zach Liebler. According to head coach Mike Burns, Liebler has been battling fragile ankles due to some low landings in practice. Having him on the floor, healthy and doing more events, would be a boost to Minnesota's outlook.
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