Ruggeri, Maestas Crowned National Champions
April 22, 2012
NORMAN, Okla. - Less than 24 hours after helping the Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team to its first national title in more than two decades, freshman C.J. Maestas became Illinois' first-ever NCAA still rings champion, while redshirt senior Paul Ruggeri matched his career high on vault to earn his fourth NCAA crown in his final performance as an Illini Saturday night at the Lloyd Noble Center.
"Paul has been a veteran leader for us since he was a freshman," Illini head coach Justin Spring said. "He had a shortcoming in the team competition, and it speaks to his character that he got back and finished out the meet as a possible counter on rings for us. He's really had to battle some adversity, and I'm so proud of him for just really shifting gears during his five years and becoming a leader to this team in many ways. He will be missed. His contributions are far more than what he has done athletically."
Ruggeri equaled his career-high vault score with a 15.500 to secure his first-ever NCAA vault title. The Manlius, N.Y., native shared the crown with Stanford's Eddie Penev. Ruggeri's win marks his fourth NCAA title overall and first since 2009 and also marks his team-high eighth vault title of the year. Ruggeri's 15.500 matches the school record, which he set two weeks ago to become the Big Ten vault champion.
"I was happier than I have ever been in my whole entire life yesterday after team finals," Ruggeri said. "But I was a little disappointed because I knew I could have done better in my personal performance. To come back today and to hit a pretty decent parallel bar set and stick one of two vaults that I've ever stuck, again at an event final, it was really exciting for me."
The fifth-year senior added to his success with a second-place finish on parallel bars (15.000) and earned All-America honors on both events in which he competed, marking his second recognition on both apparatuses. Ruggeri ends his collegiate career as a nine-time NCAA All-American.
"I'm just so lucky," Ruggeri said. "I can't say that enough. I'm going to miss all of these guys. I never would have stuck the landing if it weren't for those guys pushing me in the gym every single day. I'm going to miss that."
Meanwhile, Maestas secured a 15.300 on rings to earn All-America honors and become the first freshman to win a national title for the Orange and Blue since Ruggeri won on high bar in 2008. The win marks his team-leading eighth rings crown this season and his 20th overall, which ties Ruggeri for the most in 2012. The newcomer also garnered All-America status on pommel horse, finishing sixth with a 14.550.
"This is the time to show up and do what you're trained to do," Maestas said. "Everyone on rings is amazingly strong this year, so it was hard. I just had to go out and do the best that I could. Rings is my specialty. I've been a strong kid ever since I was young, and it's amazing to go out there and do what I love to do."
"C.J. is very strong and is only going to get better," Spring said. "He is your quintessential athlete who is all about the team. He was psyched to get a ring title, but all he ever wanted was yesterday's team title."
Five other Illini finished in the top eight on their respective events to earn All-America honors. Juniors Yoshi Mori (fifth; pommel horse) and Austin Phillips (eighth; high bar) and sophomores Jordan Valdez (fifth; high bar) and Chad Mason (eighth; pommel horse) earned the first event honors of their career, while senior Anthony Sacramento (eighth; rings) became a rings All-American for the third straight year.
The meet marks the third time in the past four years that Illinois came away with at least two national champions and is the first time in eight seasons that the Orange and Blue produced three pommel horse All-Americans (Mori, Maestas and Mason). In all, Illinois totaled 11 All-Americans at the 2012 NCAA Championships, nine during today's event finals, and two on Friday in the all-around (Maestas and Mori).
*Indicates All-American (top eight on each event)