MEN’S NCAA QUALIFYING SESSIONS CONCLUDE
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As a thunderstorm raged outside the Lloyd Noble Center, hosts Oklahoma battled with the talented Fighting Illini for the top spot going into tomorrow's team final competition. In the end, with room for improvement on both sides, Illinois claimed the No. 1 spot away from the Sooners by a nail-biting .05, setting the stage for what's likely to be an epic battle in tomorrow night's team finals.
The Sooners claimed five of the six events, edging the Illini on floor, horse, rings and vault. U of I claimed parallel bars by a narrow margin, but it was their blowout high bar victory--a full 2.55 better than OU's effort--that sealed Illinois' victory.
It is Oklahoma's second loss of the season to Illinois, the only team that's topped the Sooners in 2012. A year in which both of these top teams have weathered unusual drama and finicky team dynamics. World medalist Alex Naddour left Oklahoma just before the season began and National Team member Tyler Mizoguchi was removed from Illinois' squad in March. In addition, just this week, Oklahoma's freshman-heavy team (10 of its 18 members are newcomers) was dealt another blow when former junior National Team member Jacoby Rubin, ranked 13th in the country on pommel horse, was diagnosed with Mononucleosis, sidelining him for the entire Championships.
The last time OU hosted the NCAA Championships in 2006, current Illini coach Justin Spring was a standout senior with hopes of a national title. Hopes the Sooners would go on to dash. Surely Spring would love to see the tables turned tomorrow night by besting OU, for the first time in their hosting history, on their own floor. It would be Illinois' first title since 1989.
While the Illini easily have the Start Value edge, both teams left room for improvement, holding back some of their stars--Paul Ruggeri, CJ Maestas and Jake Dalton all skipped floor, for one--and making several errors each.
"Tomorrow is a new day and I couldn't ask any more of these guys than what they've given me this year under some very adverse circumstances," Oklahoma coach Mark Williams said after the meet. "We'll put it all out there tomorrow and see what happens."
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