Feb. 28, 2013
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The defending NCAA champion and seventh-ranked Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team will return to Huff Hall this weekend to face No. 1 Penn State on Saturday at 4 p.m. CT. PSU boasts a 50-30 lead in the all-time series, but the Orange and Blue went 2-1 against the Nittany Lions last year, edging them in both the NCAA and Big Ten Championships. Penn State managed to hand Illinois, which finished the season 28-2, one of its only two losses in 2012, securing a 347.800-346.500 win in last season's only head-to-head contest between the two teams.
SCOUTING PENN STATE
The Nittany Lions are ranked first in the nation for the seventh straight week, boasting a three-score average of 447.083. The squad checks in at No. 1 on pommel horse (74.900), rings (76.050), vault (74.683) and high bar (75.467) and is No. 2 on parallel bars (74.033). Individually, Tristan Duverglas leads the nation on vault with a three-score average of 15.267, and Wasef Burbar tops the rankings on high bar (15.717). Craig Hernandez is ranked second on pommel horse (15.317), while Matt Felleman checks in at No. 2 on high bar (15.483). Trevor Howard is third on parallel bars (15.300) and fourth on both rings (15.550) and vault (15.150), while Parker Raque is third on rings (15.600), and Mackenzie Dow is third on high bar (15.100).
FIVE UP, FIVE COUNT
This meet will mark the first week of an NCAA-wide scoring change. This season, the scoring format has featured six gymnasts for each team on each event. Until now, teams could drop their lowest score on each apparatus, counting only five scores. From this point forward, only five gymnasts will compete on each event, and every score will count.
ILLINI IN THE RANKINGS
The Illini are ranked No. 7 in the national team rankings for the third consecutive week, owning a three-score average of 431.767. Illinois is in the top five on two events, coming in at No. 2 on rings (75.267) and No. 4 on pommel horse (72.883).
Individually, freshman Mike Wilner is tied for first on rings with a three-score average of 15.633. Fellow newcomer Joey Peters checks in at No. 4 in the all-around (85.000), No. 10 on rings (15.250) and No. 12 on high bar (14.733), while senior Yoshi Mori is ranked ninth in the all-around (82.917) and 11th on pommel horse (14.983). Freshman Fred Hartville is seventh on vault (15.067). Overall, seven Illinois gymnasts hold a combined total of 10 spots on the top-20 lists.
KNOCKING OFF #1
Illinois is 3-0 in its last three meetings with top-ranked teams. The Illini downed No. 1 Oklahoma three times last season, once at home and twice in the NCAA Championships.
LAST TIME OUT
The seventh-ranked Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team captured a narrow 438.600-438.000 victory over No. 5 Ohio State last Saturday at the St. John Arena, marking the second straight week an Illinois meet was decided by less than a point. Senior captain Vince Smurro and sophomore Mike Wilner claimed event titles and scored among Illinois' top three all-time highest on their respective apparatuses to help the Illini edge the Buckeyes with a team score more than 10 points higher than their previous season best.
PAIR OF BIG TEN FRESHMEN OF THE WEEK
Fighting Illini newcomer Joey Peters garnered his first Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor on Jan. 28 after winning the all-around at the Metroplex Challenge. There, Peters placed third on high bar (14.800) and tied for third on rings (15.300), earning season highs on both apparatuses. The Danville, Pa., native captured his second all-around title in three meets with an 84.500. The award marked Illinois' first Freshman of the Week honor since C.J. Maestas earned the title on March 19, 2012.
Classmate Fred Hartville earned his first Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor on Feb. 18 for his strong performance in No. 7 Illinois' 428.450-428.400 loss to No. 8 Iowa. Hartville captured the vault title with a 15.100, marking the second-highest vault score by an Illini gymnast this season. The Atlanta native also placed second on floor with a career-high 14.750. The award marked the first time since 2011 and second time since the award's inception that two Illini gymnasts earned the honor in the same season. Current juniors Jordan Valdez and Alex Varga were each named Big Ten Freshman of the Week in 2011.
Former Fighting Illini All-American gymnast Paul Ruggeri retained his spot on the 15-man U.S. senior national team on Feb. 11, following his solid performance at the U.S. Winter Cup Challenge. Current Illini Jordan Valdez and Yoshi Mori each finished in the top 20 on two apparatuses, while volunteer assistant coach and 2010 graduate Luke Stannard placed in the top 10 on two events.
Four of seven 2012 Illini All-Americans returned to the Orange and Blue lineup this season, including seniors Yoshi Mori (AA, PH) and Austin Phillips (HB) and juniors Jordan Valdez (HB) and Chad Mason (PH). Valdez missed the last two meets due to injury and will miss this weekend's meet as well.
Sophomore C.J. Maestas will miss the 2013 season due to a tricep injury sustained during practice last fall. In his freshman year, the three-time All-American won the conference all-around crown to earn Big Ten Gymnast and Freshman of the Year honors before capturing Illinois' first-ever NCAA still rings title. Maestas underwent surgery over Thanksgiving weekend. He is expected to compete at the 2013 U.S. Visa Championships this August and will return to the Illini lineup for the 2013-14 collegiate season.
The Orange and Blue will host No. 6 Minnesota next Friday at 7 p.m. at Huff Hall. The meet will feature an experimental match-play format, which will include five gymnasts from each team going head-to-head on each event.