Finishing in second for three years in a row can be a heck of a motivator. Take Oklahoma for example: three-straight years of raising a runner-up trophy at NCAA's has led to three-straight years of raising a championship trophy.
We don't know if the same fate (winning three in a row) awaits the Fighting Illini, but we do know that they've broken through their own string of second-place finishes to win the 2018 B1G Championship.
(graphic via @IlliniMGym on Twitter)
What it took was a herculean effort from Bobby Baker, somebody who was virtually counted out of this competition after suffering an ankle injury three weeks ago. Nonetheless, there he was doing six events for his team, including a stuck vault and a handful of other cleanly hit routines. Baker ended up with a season-high 83.0, earning him a third place finish in the all-around.
As a team, it didn't feel like the Illini had a grip on the competition until they arrived at their fifth event, high bar. It was there that they hit routine after routine, sending their corral into a frenzy that led up to a Tyson Bull crescendo.
Said head coach Justin Spring (B1G Coach of the Year) to FightingIllini.com after the meet, "this [championship] is different. I won my first couple championships as a very new head coach and it took losing the last five years to know how special that was. This one is on a whole other level."
Illinois Event Final Top-Five Finishes:
Sebastian Quiana: FX - 5th
Brandon Ngai: PH - 3rd
Alex Diab: SR - Champion
Alex Diab won his third B1G SR title in a row (photo: Jess Frankl)
Bobby Baker: SR - 2nd
Chandler Eggleston: HB - Champion
Chandler Eggleston won the B1G HB title by just over a tenth of a point (photo: Jess Frankl)
Ross Thompson: HB - 5th
All the credit in the world is due to Michigan (408.6) who was a contender all the way up to their final event. To go from back-to-back seventh place finishes to runner-up speaks volumes -- not just of their entire team -- but the freshman class in particular. On Friday night, rookies accounted for eight scores of 13.5+.
Leading the young group was Cameron Bock (82.8) whose impressive showing earned him fourth place (all-around) and First-Team All-B1G/NCAA Rookie of the Week honors.
(graphic via @UMichGym on Twitter)
The Wolverines won a whopping four events (FX, PH, SR, VT) as a team on the day. Their 72.65 on VT registered as the seventh best we've seen across the NCAA in 2018.
Michigan Event Final Top-Five Finishes:
Jacob Moore: FX - 5th
Cameron Bock: SR - 4th, HB - 4th
Dmitri Belanovski: SR - 5th
Emyre Cole: VT - 4th
Anthony McCallum: VT - 5th
If we're giving credit for surprising, let's keep things rolling with the third place Penn State Nittany Lions (406.35). Randy Jepson's team rode a pair of great rotations on SR & PB to finish well above their regular season conference ranking of sixth.
"Well fought meet tonight, we were in the hunt but fell a little short,” Jepson told GoPSUSports.com. “I was pleased with the effort from our guys, their enthusiasm, and their passion."
Leading the charge were two all-around competitors, freshman Brennan Pantazis (78.05) & Sam Zakutney (77.15). Aside from PH & SR, Zakutney put together a very impressive 13.85 four-event average. This was his first all-around performance since Jan. 27.
Sam Zakutney (photo via @PennStateMGYM on Twitter)
Penn State Event Final Top-Five Finishes:
Brennan Pantazis: FX - Champion
Pantazis was the lone freshman winner at B1G's (photo: Jess Frankl)
Stephen Nedoroscik: PH - Champion
Nedoroscik is now an NCAA & B1G PH champion (photo: Jess Frankl)
Greg Tamargo: SR - 3rd
Sam Zakutney: PB - 4th
Despite Sean Melton (84.45 - B1G Gymnast of the Championships) and Alec Yoder (84.3) going 1-2 in the all-around, Ohio State (405.6) placed outside of the top-three at B1G's for the first time since 2015.
Nonetheless, those two were remarkable for the Buckeyes. Between them both, there was only one score below a 13.6 on Friday night -- that being a 13.1 from Melton on PH.
Melton & Yoder dominated (photo: Jess Frankl)
As a team, the struggles came near the start of the meet. FX & PH (sixth on both) put OSU in a hole that would've been nearly impossible to climb out of. "It was a rough start for us on the first three events," said Rustam Sharipov to OhioStateBuckeyes.com. "We picked it up and felt like ourselves. We're disappointed in our performance as a team but it's great for us to have the top two all-arounders."
The Buckeyes did crush the rest of the field on PB; they were the only team to post multiple 14+ scores on the event.
Ohio State Event Final Top-Five Finishes:
Alec Yoder: PH - 2nd, PB - 5th
Needless to say, the trip to Ann Arbor didn't go as planned for fifth place Minnesota (405.45). That event everybody loves so much, PH, was the eventual undoing for the Gophers as they posted their second-lowest total of the year, a 63.4.
There were some bright spots on Friday night, however. First of all, Tristan Duran put together an 82.0 which was enough to earn him a top-five all-around finish. The New Jersey-native didn't register a single score below 13.15. Shane Wiskus (B1G Gymnast/Freshman of the Year) also competed all six to the tune of an 80.75
(graphic via @GopherMGym)
(graphic via @GopherMGym)
They were also their usual selves on FX, ending up as one of only two teams (the other being Nebraska) to record five scores of 13.6+.
"It wasn’t quite what we expected,” said Mike Burns to GopherSports.com. "Fifth place is hard to swallow. It’s painful, but there’s a lot of fuel in that pain. We have to use this to fuel our next stage."
Expect a motivated Minnesota team at NCAA's.
Minnesota Event Final Top-Five Finishes:
Vitali Kan: PH - 4th
Tristan Duran: PB - Co-Champion
Tristan Duran brought home a B1G for Minnesota (photo: Jess Frankl)
Jalon Stephens: HB - 2nd
Shane Wiskus: HB - 3rd
You don't realize how tightly-packed 3-6 was until you consider that sixth place Nebraska (404.75) was just 1.6 out of third. I talked about the Huskers' SR leading up to the championships, and it was the event that kept them off the podium. Their 64.15 had them six tenths behind the next best team.
A pair of usual suspects, Anton Stephenson & Jake Bonnay, stepped up with big nights. They combined for five top-seven finishes during team finals.
Also, I haven't gone in depth on event finals for other teams, but it's worth noting that Nebraska qualified three (Bonnay, Stephenson & Kyle King) into VT finals and all three stuck it cold to finish 1-2-3 on Saturday evening. Here's a very cool video of Bonnay's VT.
Nebraska Event Final Top-Five Finishes:
Anton Stephenson: VT - Champion, PB - Co-Champion, FX - t2nd
Stephenson's Saturday night summed up in one photo (photo: Jess Frankl)
Jake Bonnay: FX - t2nd, VT - 2nd
Kyle King: VT - 3rd
Daniel Leal: PB - 3rd
Tough rotations on FX & HB left the Iowa Hawkeyes (398.55) just short of the 400-mark. It was a great night for freshman Bennet Huang (80.3) whose name should be mentioned right alongside Wiskus & Bock in terms of standout rookies.
Bennet Huang placed seventh AA at B1G's (photo via HawkeyeSports.com)
Another positive was the continued production on PH. The Hawkeyes finished just .15 out of first place on the event as they were led by Austin Hodges (14.25) & Elijah Parsells (13.6).
Iowa Event Final Top-Five Finishes:
Austin Hodges: PH - 5th
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