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    Illinois Tops in the Big Ten, Takes Bronze at NCAA Finals
    Senior Wes Haagensen finished ninth in the all-around.

    Senior Wes Haagensen finished ninth in the all-around.

    April 19, 2008

    2008 NCAA Championships Photo Gallery 

    STANFORD, Calif. - The Illinois men's gymnastics team might not have hoisted the NCAA title tonight, but they walked away the best in the Big Ten and third-best team in the country after posting a season-high 359.750, topping their season-high for the second straight night to beat out defending NCAA champion and 2008 Big Ten champion No. 3 Penn State (357.650) and No. 4 California (356.150) for the team bronze. On top of the team's accomplishments, the Illini advanced a total of seven individuals across all six events into the NCAA Championships Event Finals on Saturday night, April 19, at 9 p.m. CT, 7 p.m. PT at Maples Pavilion.

    "I think what is important to notice is that our guys from the beginning of the season have been training for this night," head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. "We always peak at the NCAA Championships. Whether that job is good enough to place in the top six or win the national championship, we never know, but we know that we are going to give it our best every time we enter the finals. I think people in the country do notice that we are a force and the guys proved that today by beating all the Big Ten teams."

    No. 2-ranked Oklahoma (363.200) stole the team title from host and No. 1-rated Stanford (362.750) in the final rotation, while the Cardinal finished second just in front of the No. 5-ranked Illini. Penn State (357.650) came in fourth, followed by California (356.150) and No. 6 Michigan (354.250), who rounded out the final six teams.

    The Illini had the best meet of their 2008 campaign, setting another season-high team score in back-to-back competitions, notched its season-best on vault (63.800), tied its second highest on high bar (58.500), had outright second-place outings on floor exercise (60.650) and rings (60.800) and its third-highest mark on parallel bars (59.350). Its team marks on vault and pommel horse also were the second-highest scores by any team in the finals to add another reason the Illini proved that they brought some of their best tonight.

    "When you contribute to the team championships, you are bound to have individuals that stand out as well," Hayasaki said. "Then as coaches you know that you will have some of those top routines that will be selected to compete for the event title. Having seven guys from Illinois move on to finals, I could not be more proud. The next goal for our guys is to compete for All-America status and then look at taking a national title home from there. This is a great day for Illinois gymnastics."

    Illinois' top individual performances included freshman Paul Ruggeri finishing tied for sixth on floor exercise (15.400) for top honors by any Illini on the event and earning him a spot in event finals on Saturday. Freshman Roger Pasek was the next highest finisher on floor with his tied for 15th-place (15.200) outing. On pommel, freshman Daniel Ribeiro took second overall with a 15.250, also advancing to event finals, while Pasek posted a 13.950 on horse to finish tied for 17th to be the Illini's top performers on the apparatus.

    Seniors Jon Drollinger and Tyler Yamauchi took top-five honors on rings, with Yamauchi setting a career- and team-high with his 15.800 for fourth-place, while Drollinger was fifth (15.550), also posting his career-best. On vault, Ruggeri tabbed a 16.100 along with Yamauchi (16.100) to tie for fifth. All four of the above finishers will be competing for the individual title tomorrow night in their respective events.

    Rounding out the evening, sophomore Brian Liscovitz and senior Wes Haagensen tied for sixth on parallel bars with a score of 15.000, while Yamauchi was just outside of qualifying for event finals on p-bars along with Liscovitz and Haagensen with his 14.850. On high bar, Illinois' representatives in the individual finals include senior Ross Bradley (14.750) - a 2006 All-American on the event - and Ruggeri (14.700). Senior Chris Silcox also posted a 14.700 for his routine to tie for eighth, but by way of a tiebreaker to see who are the top-10 qualifiers for Saturday - which includes going back to team qualifier scores from last night - the senior did not advance to event finals.

    In the all-around competition, junior Casey Sandy of Penn State took top honors with a 91.350, while Haagensen just missed All-America status for the third straight year in the all-around with his ninth-place outing (86.500). In all, eight different Illini set new or tied their previous career highs during the 2008 team finals.

    With Illinois' appearance at the NCAA Team Finals in 2008, they became only the third team in the country to make it the past six straight years, tying the Penn State Nittany Lions, who also have six straight, and trail only the Oklahoma Sooners, who have advanced the past 18 straight years.

    Illinois now returns to Maples Pavilion tomorrow night when seven Orange and Blue gymnasts compete for a total of six national titles, while the top-eight on each event earn All-America status. That group includes seniors Bradley, Drollinger, Haagensen and Yamauchi, sophomore Liscovitz and freshmen Ribeiro and Ruggeri. The Illini contingent now comes back to compete in the NCAA Individual Championships at 9 p.m. CT, 7 p.m. PT, on the campus of Stanford University.

    Live scoring for the event finals will be available at the official web site of the championships at, with a full recap of the event available on the official home of Illinois men's gymnastics at

    Floor Exercise
    It seemed Illinois had learned from a rough night the day before on floor, as the Fighting Illini remedied their jitters and came out on fire during their first event of the night. Freshman Daniel Ribeiro was first up for Illinois, putting fourth a near flawless routine to score a 14.950, a career best. Sophomore Luke Stannard followed the freshman with a 14.600, before freshman Roger Pasek stepped-up big again for UI, as he charted a 15.200 and ended his routine with a triumphant fist-pump as he ran back to the bench with cheers from every Illinois fan behind him.

    Senior Wes Haagensen kept the Illini faithful on their feet, as he punched a 15.100 of his own during his routine. Freshman Paul Ruggeri then hit the floor for his finals debut, stumbling a bit to start the set, but did not let that sideline him down the stretch, as he stuck his final landing to put a stamp on his floor routine with Illinois' best score of the night, a 15.400. With the effort, Illinois scored its second highest team score (60.650) in the event of the season, just short of its top-score of a 61.250.

    The Illini now headed into their bye round during rotation two before hitting the mat on pommel horse during rotation three.

    Pommel Horse
    With Illinois having to take an early break in their championships run after floor, the lineup looked to fire the momentum right back up on pommel horse, the event Illinois is currently ranked No. 1 on in the country heading into tonight.

    Sophomore and 2006 All-American on pommel Chris Lung was called to ignite that flame to start off the pommel horse portion of the night, as he tallied a 13.600 to kick things off. Then, as if he was carrying the pride and momentum from his floor set, Pasek carried the high over to pommel when he scored a 13.950, just .050 off his lifetime best.

    Senior Ross Bradley followed with his first event of the night, continuing to improve and help Illinois remain in the hunt for the team title when he carded a 13.850 - bettering his career high for the second straight night. With the night just beginning for the top-rated Illini lineup, Haagensen, Stannard and No. 1-ranked Ribeiro were still left to compete.

    Haagensen and Stannard, however, fumbled through a pair of rocky routines, but it was the routine that everyone had been waiting for from Illinois' standout youngster Ribeiro that helped Illinois end the rotation on a high note. The Illini freshman did not disappoint, as he turned in a 15.250 to cap-off the rotation. From there, Illinois headed to rings, but had notched the second-highest score of the night on horse in the process.

    Still Rings
    Just when fans might have thought the Illini had tossed in the towel after one of their lowest outputs on pommel of the year, Lung reminded the crowd and the team that they were in the meet until the end as he bounced back with a strong 14.150 on rings to kickoff the lineup for the Orange and Blue. Making his championship finals debut, junior Tyler Williamson continued the push with his 14.800 before Haagensen tossed in a 14.650 of his own.

    Proving that he could bring his top-performance for the second straight night, senior Jon Drollinger posted a 15.550, a career high for the veteran, to land the night's fifth-highest score of the evening. However, when the judges thought they had seen the best the Illini could offer, senior Tyler Yamauchi showed why he is a contender for the national title as he registered his lifetime best of a 15.800 to finish off the rotation. The mark also stood as the fourth-highest score of the night of all competitors and the highest by an Illini gymnast all season.

    With a strong finish needed from the Illini to remain in the hunt for a top-three finish, Lung again was called upon to rile up the troops when he posted a 14.800 in the first vault of the night for Illinois. Stannard followed with a 14.950 before Pasek continued to wow the crowd with one of the best nights of his career, recording a 15.900 to tie his best of the year.

    Haagensen was next up on the apparatus, registering a 15.700 to keep himself in contention for All-America honors in the all-around competition. Then with the night seeming to belong to the freshmen through five rotations, Ruggeri came through in his vault, tallying a 16.100 behind a masterful stick to his landing to earn himself a career-best. However, the freshmen might have been having a night to remember as a class, but co-captain Yamauchi was intent on putting a stamp on the four-year career of the senior class when he stepped-up for his vault, a double full. He did just that, as he earned a 16.100, posting his career-high for the second straight night to round off the Illini on the apparatus as the Orange and Blue headed to parallel bars. The effort on vault also stood as the best all season, as the contingent registered a 2008 high of a 63.800.

    Parallel Bars
    The Illini had now put themselves in position heading into parallel bars, as they were in the hunt for a top-three finish on the night as Lung went a 14.100 before senior Chris Silcox headed to the apparatus for his first event of the night and the championships. Silcox kept the pressure on the rest of the field as he recorded a 14.500, followed by a 13.800 from Ruggeri. Yamauchi continued to put forth a veteran effort of his own, posting a 14.850.

    From there, one of the Illini's best on the event, sophomore Brian Liscovitz, showed why he is eyeing a national title on p-bars, as he registered one of the top scores of the night with his 15.000. Haagensen rounded out the rotation when he carded a 15.000 as well to help Illinois post the third-best total of the year on the event, a 59.350, and the third-highest score of the night.

    So with one rotation left to decide the national champion, Illinois entered the final round in second-place behind traditional powerhouse Oklahoma, by .250 points in the overall team score.

    High Bar
    With the pressure on, Illinois started off slow with a solid routine by Lung before senior Bradley returned the confidence back into the hearts of the Illini faithful as he stuck his landing and put a stamp on his final routine of the night with a 14.750. With Illinois fans ready for more, Silcox delivered with a 14.700 for his set.

    Ranked No. 1 on the event and one of the best in the Illini lineup, Ruggeri recovered well from an uncharacteristic night on the event in team qualifying, as he took a minor step in his landing before earning a 14.700 for his set on high bar. Haagensen followed the performance with a 13.250, while Liscovitz ended the night with a bang, carding a 14.350 to put the final touches on another Illini top-three finish at NCAAs.

    The Illini had dropped to third in the overall standings, after their 58.500 on high bar, but found themselves at the top of the Big Ten ladder, taking down 2008 Big Ten titlist, Penn State and finishing ahead of No. 6 Michigan as well.

    1. Oklahoma 363.200
    2. Stanford 362.750
    3. ILLINOIS 359.750
    4. Penn State 357.650
    5. California 356.150
    6. Michigan 354.250

    Paul Ruggeri - (FX, VT, HB)
    Daniel Ribeiro - (PM)
    Tyler Yamauchi - (SR, VT)
    Jon Drollinger - (SR)
    Brian Liscovitz - (PB)
    Wes Haagensen - (PB)
    Ross Bradley (HB)

    (1)! Vault (63.800)
    (3) Parallel Bars (59.350)
    (T2) High Bar (58.500)
    (2) Floor Exercise (60.650)
    Pommel Horse (56.650)
    (2) Still Rings (60.800)
    (1)! Team Total (359.750)

    KEY:B ! Season High / School Record (Are synonymous since gymnastics moved to a new scoring system in 2008)
    (-) Denotes Where It Ranks on the Top-Three Scores for Illinois in 2008


    Floor Exercise
    *(T6) Paul Ruggeri (15.400)
    * Roger Pasek (15.200)
    * Wes Haagensen (15.100)
    *! Daniel Ribeiro (14.950)
    Luke Stannard (14.600)

    Pommel Horse
    *(2) Daniel Ribeiro (15.250)
    * Roger Pasek (13.950)
    *! Ross Bradley (13.850)
    * Chris Lung (13.600)
    Wes Haagensen (12.800)
    Luke Stannard (10.650)

    Still Rings
    *!&(4) Tyler Yamauchi (15.800)
    *!(5) Jon Drollinger (15.550)
    * Tyler Williamson (14.800)
    * Wes Haagensen (14.650)
    Chris Lung (14.150)

    *!(T5) Paul Ruggeri (16.100)
    *%(T5) Tyler Yamauchi (16.100)
    *% Roger Pasek (15.900)
    * Wes Haagensen (15.700)
    Luke Stannard (14.950)
    Chris Lung (14.800)

    Parallel Bars
    *(T6) Brian Liscovitz (15.000)
    *%(T6) Wes Haagensen (15.000)
    * Tyler Yamauchi (14.850)
    * Chris Silcox (14.500)
    Chris Lung (14.100)
    Paul Ruggeri (13.800)

    High Bar
    *!(7) Ross Bradley (14.750)
    *(T8) Paul Ruggeri (14.700)
    *!(T8) Chris Silcox (14.700)
    * Brian Liscovitz (14.350)
    Wes Haagensen (13.250)
    Chris Lung (12.250)

    (9) Wes Haagensen (86.500)

    * Counted Toward Team Score
    ! Individual Season/Career High Score
    & Team Season-High Score
    % Tied Season/Career High Score
    (-) Indicates Top-10 Finish on Event to Advance to Team Finals

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