University of Illinois senior gymnast Wes Haagensen has been named a finalist for the prestigious 2008 Nissen-Emery Award, announced the College Gymnastics Association (CGA) today. Considered the Heisman Trophy of college gymnastics, the Nissen-Emery Award is presented to the top collegiate senior gymnast each year. Haagensen, for his efforts in helping Illinois take down No. 5 Michigan this past weekend, also earned CGA National Gymnast of the Week for the week ending March 10, announced the national gymnastics body today. The honor marks his second accolade of the week after he earned Big Ten Gymnast of the Week on Tuesday, March 11. This is Haagensen's third national honor of his career.
"The Nissen-Emery Award is the highest award an individual can receive in men's gymnastics, and it is an honor for Wesley to be a finalist," head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. "The qualifications are that is has to be a senior member of your team that has contributed to the sport not only through competition, but academically with a strong character and true qualities of a competitor. Wesley is a very deserving individual and his career statistics and accomplishments speak for themselves. Finishing second last year in the all-around at NCAAs shows just how capable he is of competing with the top guys in the nation. What he has done this season through injuries and what he is capable of doing the rest of the year as he gets more healthy makes him a perfect choice for the honor."
Haagensen joins a long list of Illini greats that have been honored as finalists, including Butch Zurich (1980), Steve Lechner (1981), Joe Ledvora (1986), Tigran Mkchyan (1988), David Zeddies (1989), Ricardo Cheriel (1993), Brian Kobylinski (1995), Jon Corbitt (1998), Kyle Zak (1999), Travis Romagnoli (2000), Leo Oka (2001), J.G. Ketchen (2002), Bob Rogers (2004), Ben Newman (2005) and Justin Spring (2006). The award has been handed out annually since 1966 and was founded by trampoline inventor George Nissen.
The Belleville, Ill., native now looks to join a elite group of those finalists that have gone on to hoist the honor for Illinois in Zeddies in 1989 - leading his team to Illinois gymnastics' last NCAA championship that year - and Spring in 2006, the four-time NCAA titlist, 12-time All-American and 2008 Olympic hopeful.
Haagensen is the reining Big Ten Gymnast of the Year, leading Illinois to its fifth straight top-five finish at NCAAs in 2007. The 2007 Big Ten all-around champion has captured six All-America honors throughout his four-year career, with two apiece coming on floor exercise (2006-07) and in the all-around (2006-07). He also has All-American laurels earned on high bar (2007) and parallel bars (2006).
Haagensen is a two-time preseason All-Big Ten honoree and a unanimous season-ending All-Big Ten team selection in both 2006 and 2007. A three-time Big Ten Gymnast of the Week selection, the UI veteran also has been named CGA NCAA Gymnast of the Week three times, once every year since 2006, as well as earning 2005 Big Ten Rookie of the Year.
In 2008, Haagensen has a total of 15 top-three finishes and four individual titles. Despite nursing injuries for most of the season, the Illini senior has helped Illinois dethrone three-time defending Big Ten champion Ohio State in a dual for the first time since 2002, and then added the Fighting Illini's first win over No. 5 Michigan since 1998 in his most recent performance. In fact, he had his best outing of the year against the Wolverines, setting two career-highs (all-around, pommel horse) en route to titles, while his mark in the all-around at the time was the tied for fifth-highest score set by an individual gymnast in the country in 2008.
The winner of the Nissen-Emery Award, along with several other awards - including national and regional Coach of the Year and national Assistant Coach of the Year, will be announced on Wednesday, April 16 at the annual College Gymnastics Association banquet. The banquet is held the day prior to the start of the national championships and kicks off the festivities in Stanford, Calif.
The other six finalists for the annual award include Jonathan Horton of Oklahoma, David Sender of Stanford, Tim McNeill of California, DJ Bucher of Ohio State, Derek Helsby of Penn State and Luke Vexler of Temple.
Competition at the 2008 NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships gets underway at Stanford University's Maples Pavilion on Thursday, April 17 at 3 p.m. CT, 1 p.m. PT, with the first of two qualifying sessions. Session III, the team finals and all-around finals will take place on Friday, April 18 at 9 p.m. CT, 7 p.m. PT. On Saturday, April 19, the individual event crowns will be handed out, with competition also beginning at 9 p.m. CT, 7 p.m. PT. Visit the official championships web site at http://gostanford.cstv.com/sports/m-gym/08-ncaa-tournament-central.html for ticket and tournament information.