THE MEET The defending national champion and sixth-ranked Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team will host the first match play event in NCAA gymnastics history this Friday at 7 p.m. CT at Huff Hall. Illinois will take on No. 7 Minnesota, competing under Illinois head coach Justin Spring's revolutionary format, which features match play scoring on each apparatus. Big Ten Network will air the competition on Monday, March 11 at 7 p.m. CT.
EXPERIMENTAL MATCH PLAY The meet will feature head-to-head matchups on each event with no predetermined lineups, allowing coaches to select the order of competitors as the meet progresses. The competition will start on floor and continue through the Olympic order of events with five one-on-one matchups per apparatus. Each winner of a head-to-head contest (based on traditional performance score) receives one point for his team. If both gymnasts tie in a head-to-head matchup, both athletes receive one point. The team with the most individual points at the end of the night wins the dual contest. The judges will not reveal the traditional scores to the audience and, instead, will only reveal each head-to-head winner.
The competition will start with a coin toss to determine which team performs first. After the first matchup, the team with the fewest points always goes last. If the teams are tied, the team that was leading prior to the tie performs last.
If the teams tie at the end of the night, the meet will be decided in a shootout, which will consist of five gymnasts from each team performing standing back tucks. The team that sticks the most back tucks wins the contest. If the teams are still tied after back tucks, the gymnasts will perform a round of back pikes, followed by a round of back fulls until one team wins.
SCOUTING THE GOPHERS Minnesota is ranked seventh in the nation with a three-score average of 432.417 and is coming off a 428.750-416.300 victory over Iowa last weekend. The Gophers crack the top five on two events, checking in at No. 3 on vault (73.850) and No. 5 on high bar (71.733). Individually, four Gophers are ranked in the top 10 on various events, while 10 are in the top 20. Steve Jaciuk leads the squad, coming in at No. 3 on high bar (15.167). Ellis Manning and Adam Kern follow with No. 7 rankings on pommel horse (15.033) and vault (15.083), respectively, while Adam LeFleur is ranked ninth on vault (14.983).
Illinois boasts a 144-91 lead in the all-time series against the Gophers after edging them in January at the Windy City Invitational, where the Illini tied for second (427.750), and Minnesota placed fourth (425.750).
ILLINI IN THE RANKINGS The Illini moved up a spot to No. 6 in this week's national team rankings, owning a three-score average of 434.417. Illinois is in the top five on three events, coming in at No. 2 on rings (75.650) and No. 4 on both pommel horse (72.883) and parallel bars (72.683).
Sophomore Mike Wilner leads the nation on rings with a three-score average of 15.767, while freshman Fred Hartville is ranked third on vault (15.200). Fellow newcomer Joey Peters checks in at No. 7 in the all-around (85.000), No. 8 on both rings (15.367) and high bar (14.917) and No. 12 on parallel bars. Senior Yoshi Mori is ranked sixth in the all-around (85.217) and ninth on pommel horse (15.017), while junior Alex Varga is ranked 10th on floor (15.250). Overall, nine Illinois gymnasts hold a combined total of 13 spots on the top-20 lists.
LAST TIME OUT The seventh-ranked Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team came up short to top-ranked Penn State last Saturday in a 438.900-436.250 battle at Huff Hall. Illinois gymnasts notched event titles on five of six apparatuses, highlighted by senior Yoshi Mori's two-title performance, which included wins on both floor and pommel horse, and Mike Wilner's school record-breaking night on rings.
EVERY MAN COUNTS This meet will mark the second week of an NCAA-wide scoring change. In the beginning of the season, the scoring format featured six gymnasts competing for each team on each event. Until March 1, all teams could drop their lowest score on each apparatus, counting only five of six scores. As of March 1, only five gymnasts can compete on each event, and every competitor affects the team total.
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). 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 third-highest vault score by an Illini gymnast this season. The Atlanta native also placed second on floor with a 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.
WINTER CUP 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.
RETURNING ALL-AMERICANS 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 and Mason missed the last three meets and will miss this weekend's meet as well.
MAESTAS INJURED 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.
UP NEXT The Orange and Blue will travel to No. 9 California next weekend, taking on the Golden Bears on Saturday, March 16 at 5 p.m. CT in Berkeley.