Illinois Wins Men's Gymnastics National Title
April 20, 2012
NORMAN, Okla. - The Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team climbed back from a two-point deficit in the final two rotations of the night to win the 2012 NCAA Championship Friday evening at the Lloyd Noble Center. The Orange and Blue posted a season-high score of 358.850, including a school record-breaking 60.750 on pommel horse, to edge host and top-ranked Oklahoma (357.450), which finished second in the field of six. Penn State (354.800) placed third, followed by California (353.000), Stanford (352.650) and Michigan (351.050).
The win marks Illinois' 10th title in program history and first since 1989 and is the first national championship for any Illinois athletics program since the men's tennis team won in 2003.
"This moment has been a long time coming," Illini head coach Justin Spring said. "I have been a part of the NCAA for 10 years as an athlete, an assistant coach and now a head coach, and every time, I was on a team that had a shot at this thing. For the first time, we pulled it off. This team is one that truly took ownership of the details, and that is not easy to do when you are in a sport that is based off perfection. I couldn't be more proud of my guys and my support staff for getting everyone in line and getting us just where we needed to be."
The Illini started the night with their season-best score on vault, securing a 60.100. Redshirt senior Paul Ruggeri led the way, matching his career high on the apparatus with a 15.500 to finish second and qualify for Saturday night's event finals. In the following rotation, Ruggeri paced Illinois once again with a 15.250 on parallel bars to tie for third, while freshman C.J. Maestas tied for fifth with a career-best 15.100.
Illinois struggled in the third rotation, however, as Maestas and Ruggeri each fell on high bar, an event on which Illinois is ranked first in the nation. Sophomore Jordan Valdez and senior C.J. Padera posted 14.900s to tie for sixth, while junior Austin Phillips finished 10th with a 14.650. In the fourth rotation, the Illini posted a 60.000 on floor, paced by junior Yoshi Mori and Maestas, who tied for 11th (15.100) and just missed qualifying for event finals.
Despite trailing Oklahoma by more than two points, the Illini quickly closed the gap in the fifth rotation, shattering the school record with a 60.750 on pommel horse. Four Illini secured spots in the finals on that event, led by sophomore Chad Mason in fourth with a career-high 15.300. Fellow sophomore Cole Smith finished fifth with a personal-best 15.250, while Mori and Maestas tied for sixth with 15.100s, marking Maestas' career high.
In the final rotation of the night, the Illini captured a 59.450 on rings to overtake the Sooners and clinch the national title. Maestas led the Orange and Blue with a second-place 15.600, marking the second-highest score by an Illini on rings this season, while senior Anthony Sacramento finished seventh with a 15.050.
"They weren't brought down after the downfall on high bar," Spring said. "That is the kind of perseverance and the mental toughness that this team had all year. I am just so proud of them. They rebounded and kept pushing through."
Despite his fall on high bar, Maestas tied 2011 all-around champion Sam Mikulak (Michigan) for second in the all-around with a career-high 89.700, while Mori (87.100) finished sixth. Oklahoma's Jake Dalton (91.000) took home the title.
"We had a lot of ups and downs in our year like always," Spring said. "But this team is the one that continued to rebound and make it show. We are no longer the team that should've done it for the last 10 years. We are the team that did it."
Nine Illini finished in the top 10 on various apparatuses to qualify for Saturday night's individual event finals, which are slated to begin at 7 p.m. The final session will be streamed live on NCAA.com.
Individual Event Qualifiers