Illini Win Fourth Straight Big Ten Championship
April 7, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team captured its fourth straight Big Ten title Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a 352.950, making it the first program to win four in a row since Minnesota claimed the crown from 1977-80. The win marked Illinois' 27th championship all-time, which is the most among Big Ten schools. Michigan (351.850) took second place, followed by Penn State (350.000), Minnesota (345.800), Ohio State (343.650), Iowa (342.800) and Nebraska (340.700).
"We were able to make some mistakes today," Illini head coach Justin Spring said. "But we let them roll right off our shoulders and got right back into hitting routines, and that's the sign of a strong team. I was very proud of them to do that. It's a testament to the fight in this team."
Freshman C.J. Maestas led the way for the Orange and Blue, securing the all-around title with a career-high 89.500, making him the first Big Ten all-around champion for Illinois since Wes Haagensen took the crown in 2007. The win marked Maestas' team-leading fifth all-around title this season. Redshirt senior Paul Ruggeri took third with an 86.850.
"First and foremost, it's about the team," Maestas said. "Coming away with the team title was indescribable. The whole time I was going, I just didn't want to mess up for my team, and coming out with the all-around title was just the icing on the cake."
The Orange and Blue began the night on pommel horse, where they finished fourth as a team with a 56.650, paced by junior Yoshi Mori (14.700), who took third to advance to Saturday night's finals.
In the following rotation, the Illini broke the school rings record with a 61.600, led by Maestas, who took second and set a new Illinois record with a 15.850. Senior Anthony Sacramento matched his career high with a 15.500 to finish third, while senior Kyle Moe tied for fourth with a lifetime-best 15.150, and freshman Mike Wilner tied for seventh with a 15.100 to round out the list of rings qualifiers for the Orange and Blue.
On vault, the Illini tied for fourth as a team (58.750), while Ruggeri topped the leaderboard with a 15.300 to secure his spot in the finals on that apparatus and earn his team-leading sixth vault title this season.
In the next rotation, the Illini finished second on parallel bars (58.050) with solid scores from Maestas (third; 15.000) and Ruggeri (ninth; 14.650). Maestas' score marked another career high for the Corrales, N.M., native, and both Illini advanced.
The Orange and Blue continued their success with a team win on high bar (58.400), highlighted by sophomore Jordan Valdez' second-place finish (14.750). Junior Austin Phillips and Maestas tied for fourth with 14.600s, while senior C.J. Padera (14.450) tied for ninth, as the four of them punched their tickets to the finals.
In the final rotation, the Illini sealed the deal with a solid night on floor, winning the event as a team with a 59.500. Maestas finished first with a 15.400, followed by Ruggeri in second with a 15.250 to each earn a spot in the floor finals.
"We've shown our strength to continue bringing in top athletes and putting consistent teams on the floor," Spring said. "I hope to continue successful competitions for as long as we can. This group of seniors has been outstanding, and as a program, we're very strong."
Overall, nine Illini qualified for event finals with at least one advancing on each event. The top 10 individuals on each apparatus advanced. Finals will begin at 7 p.m. tomorrow night and will be broadcast live by Big Ten Network.