Four Illini gymnasts win Big Ten titles

Apr. 6—CHAMPAIGN — Illinois' men's gymnastics team entered the second night of the Big Ten Championships with plenty of energy.

Hosting the conference meet at State Farm Center, the Illini placed second to Michigan in the team portion of the conference meet on Friday night. Coach Daniel Ribeiro was optimistic Illinois would claim individual hardware in the individual championships on Saturday night.

Four of his athletes did just that as Amari Sewell, Ashton Anaya, Brandon Dang and Connor McCool claimed Big Ten titles.

McCool split the floor exercise title with Michigan's Landen Blixt while Sewell, Anaya and Dang won the vault, pommel horse and still rings, respectively.

"We got three (champions) last year which felt really darn cool and then we added a fourth at home, it's really exciting," McCool said. "Couldn't ask for a better day, honestly."

Just four days removed from being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Dang dazzled on the pommel horse during the first rotation of the individual meet with a score of 14.800.

Illinois comfortably topped the field in that event during the team championships.

"It's amazing knowing that I was able to achieve it and just knowing that I'll be stronger and better with my techniques on my skills," Dang said. "It's going to hopefully get better in the later years to come."

Anaya won his third consecutive Big Ten title on the still rings with a score of 14.200 to edge the mark of 14.125 set by Michigan's Rithik Puri.

"That feels really, really great," Anaya said. "Especially because this is unfortunately my last year in college. At the very least, it feels nice to be able to go home and close this little chapter of my life and be able to say I was undefeated in the Big Ten, at least the championships."

Sewell began his collegiate career at Iowa and found himself without a team when the Hawkeyes shuttered their program following the 2021 season.

His second season at Illinois now includes his name at the top of the Big Ten leaderboard. Illini fans chanted his name after it became apparent his score of 14.825 would be enough to clinch the championship.

"It's kind of surreal," Sewell said. "My wildest dreams revolve around just competing for Illinois, being able to spend my companions on the floor with the boys ... so then allowing me to show off my talents and that leading to a win is just beyond my dreams."

McCool was within striking distance of his second straight conference title on the floor before tying Blixt at 14.500.

That Illinois was able to compete on its own equipment was a key advantage for the Illini.

"For some of us, we've been here for several years and it's the same equipment we use at Huff Hall," McCool said.

"All the equipment is super familiar ... it is a really big advantage to go out and not have that adjustment, we were just able to hit the ground running."

Michigan's Crew Bold won the parallel bars with a score of 14.550 and Penn State's Michael Jaroh won the horizontal bar at 14.325 to stand as the only two outright winners not associated with Illinois.

"Knowing that these guys to my right have done it before and knowing that (Dang) will do it again in the future, it's very heartwarming," Sewell said.