#4 Illini Win NCAA Prelim Session with Season-Best 356.25
April 19, 2012
NORMAN, Okla. - The fourth-ranked Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team advanced to the Super Six NCAA Team Finals for the 10th straight year with a season-best 356.250 to place first in the Session II Qualifier Thursday night at the Lloyd Noble Center. Host and top-ranked Oklahoma finished in a close second with a 356.200, followed by No. 8 California with a 351.150 to round out the qualifiers from the evening session. The teams will join the top-three finishers of today's early session, including No. 6 Michigan (353.450), No. 2 Penn State (353.000) and No. 3 Stanford (348.500). Team finals will begin tomorrow at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live on NCAA.com.
"It wasn't perfect," Illini head coach Justin Spring said. "But everybody went out and did their job. We needed every tenth today. We learned from all of our mistakes, and we know what we need to do. Hopefully, we're going to step up and be an even better team tomorrow. Basically, we know we need to be a little bit better of a team than we were today, and we know we can do that."
The Illini started the night on vault, where they posted their second-highest mark of the year (59.550), paced by redshirt senior Paul Ruggeri, who tied for sixth with a 15.050. Meanwhile, sophomore Alex Varga finished eighth with a season-best 15.000.
In the second rotation, the Illini claimed their best score of the season on parallel bars with a 60.150. Ruggeri led the way for the Orange and Blue once again with a 15.250 to finish second and secure the second-highest score by an Illini on that apparatus this year. Sophomore Jordan Valdez placed fifth with a 15.100, while freshman C.J. Maestas matched his career high with a 15.000 to take seventh.
On high bar, the Orange and Blue posted a 60.100, marking their second-highest score on that event in 2012. Ruggeri topped the leaderboard with a 15.700 to capture his team-leading sixth high bar crown this season and 19th title overall this year. Junior Austin Phillips tied for fifth with a 14.950, followed by Valdez (14.800) in seventh, Maestas (14.650) in eighth and senior C.J. Padera (14.600) in ninth.
In the following rotation, the Illini posted a 59.500 on floor, led by Varga and juniors Vince Smurro and Yoshi Mori, who each tied for sixth with 14.950s to give the Illini a comfortable lead heading into their fifth-rotation bye.
On pommel horse, sophomore Chad Mason captured his first title of the year and second of his career with a personal-best 15.200 to lead the Illini to a 58.800, marking their best pommel horse score this season. Padera followed, tying for third with a career-high 14.850, while Mori tied for seventh with a 14.550.
The Orange and Blue finished out the night with a 58.150 on rings, led by Maestas, who posted a 15.450 to capture his team-leading seventh title on that event this season and 19th crown overall. Meanwhile, sophomore Cameron Rogers finished 10th with a 14.350.
The Illini will be back in action tomorrow night at 7 p.m. to compete for their first NCAA title since 1989. With its first-place finish during qualifying, Illinois earned the right to pick its first event during team finals, selecting to start on vault for the second night in a row. The top-10 finishers from Friday night's team finals will qualify for the NCAA Individual Event Finals set for Saturday at 7 p.m.