March 21, 2013
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The defending national champion and sixth-ranked Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team will return to Huff Hall for Senior Day this Saturday and will square off with No. 11 Nebraska at 4 p.m. CT. The Orange and Blue will honor seniors Malcolm Brown, Yoshi Mori, Austin Phillips and Vince Smurro prior to the meet.
SCOUTING THE CORNHUSKERS
Nebraska checks in at No. 11 in the nation with a four-score average of 424.550 after edging Iowa and falling to Minnesota last weekend in a tri-meet at home. The squad is ranked in the top 10 on five events, coming in at No. 7 on high bar (70.300), No. 8 on parallel bars (71.200) and No. 9 on floor (71.850), pommel horse (69.467) and vault (72.767). Five Huskers hold a combined total of seven spots in the top 20 on various events, led by Grant Perdue, who is fifth on vault (15.000) and 11th on floor (15.100).
ILLINI IN THE RANKINGS
The Illini remained at No. 6 in this week's national team rankings, owning a four-score average of 431.717. Illinois is in the top five on three events, ranking second on rings (75.167), fourth on pommel horse (71.817) and fifth on parallel bars (71.750).
Sophomore Mike Wilner leads the nation on rings with a four-score average of 15.633, while freshman Fred Hartville is ranked fourth on vault (15.100). Fellow newcomer Joey Peters checks in at No. 5 in the all-around (84.433), No. 10 on high bar (14.667), No. 11 on rings (15.250) and No. 20 on parallel bars (14.550). Senior Yoshi Mori is ranked ninth in the all-around (82.917) and 11th on pommel horse (14.833), while junior Alex Varga is sixth on floor (15.200). Overall, eight Illinois gymnasts hold a combined total of 12 spots on the top-20 lists.
SENIOR SEND OFF
The Orange and Blue will honor seniors Malcolm Brown, Yoshi Mori, Austin Phillips and Vince Smurro for their dedication to the team throughout their time at Illinois. All four seniors were members of the 2012 NCAA championship team and contributed at some point during the Illini's remarkable run.
Mori earned All-America status last season for the first time in his career, garnering the honor in the all-around and on pommel horse. He is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2010. Phillips, a fifth-year senior after redshirting his sophomore season due to injury, notched his first career All-America accolade last year, earning the honor on high bar. Smurro transferred to Illinois as a junior and quickly made an impact, earning a spot in the floor lineup at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. This year, the Manasquan, N.J., native put his name in the Illinois record books with the third-highest floor score in program history. Brown made appearances in each of his four seasons, specializing on pommel horse.
The Illinois marketing team will host a Diaper Derby between the third and fourth rotations at Saturday's meet. The derby will consist of babies, ages 7-18 months, crawling across the floor exercise mat from one parent to the other. Parents can enter their crawling Illini fans by e-mailing Kali Hofer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LAST TIME OUT
The Illini came up short in a 427.000-425.650 loss to No. 8 California on March 16 at the Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. Senior Vince Smurro notched his second floor title of the season, while freshman Joey Peters won on high bar for the second time in 2013, but the Golden Bears capitalized on Illinois mishaps and captured titles on four apparatuses en route to a 1.35-point victory.
EVERY MAN COUNTS
This meet will mark the fourth 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.
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. 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.
Hartville notched his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor on March 11, following his two-title performance in Illinois' 21-9 match play victory over Minnesota. In the experimental meet, he earned his fifth vault title of the season, matching his career-high score with a 15.300, which ranks fourth all-time at Illinois. He also captured his first career floor title with a 14.900. Hartville won both of his head-to-head battles under the experimental match play format, posting two of Illinois' 21 points.
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 five 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 Illini will take a nearly two-week break before heading to Minneapolis to defend their title at the Big Ten Championships, April 6-7 at the University of Minnesota. There, Illinois will look to win its fifth straight conference crown.