Men's Gymnastics
#6 Illini Set to Compete for Fifth Straight Big Ten Title this Weekend

The Illini won their fourth straight Big Ten title last season and will go for the five-peat at this year's championship on Friday night.
The Illini won their fourth straight Big Ten title last season and will go for the five-peat at this year's championship on Friday night.

April 4, 2013

2013 BIG TEN MEN'S GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS // Sports Pavilion, Minneapolis
Printable Notes | Championship Central

Friday, April 5, 7 p.m. CT // Team and All-Around Finals
TV: Big Ten Network (live)
Live Results

Saturday, April 6, 7 p.m. CT // Individual Event Finals
TV: Big Ten Network (live)
Live Results

The defending NCAA and Big Ten champion Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team will look to capture its fifth straight conference title this weekend at the 2013 Big Ten Championships, April 5-6 at the University of Minnesota's Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis. The team and all-around competition will take place Friday, followed by individual event finals on Saturday. Action begins at 7 p.m. CT on both nights.

The Illini are ranked fourth in the Big Ten team standings with a four-score average of 431.717. Penn State tops the list with a 444.767, while Michigan (437.267) is second, and Ohio State (433.233) is third. Minnesota (430.700) is ranked fifth, followed by Iowa (427.367) and Nebraska (425.717).

Big Ten Network will broadcast both days of the Big Ten Championships live, beginning at 7 p.m. CT. Mike Wolf, John Roethlisberger and Rob Brown will provide commentary both nights.

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 third on rings (75.167), fourth on pommel horse (71.817) and fifth on parallel bars (71.867).

Sophomore Mike Wilner leads the nation on rings with a four-score average of 15.667, while freshman Fred Hartville is ranked seventh on vault (15.100). Fellow newcomer Joey Peters checks in at No. 5 in the all-around (84.483) and No. 12 on high bar (14.667) and rings (15.250). Senior Yoshi Mori is ranked ninth in the all-around (83.550) and 13th on pommel horse (14.833), while junior Alex Varga is tied for seventh on floor (15.200). Overall, nine Illinois gymnasts hold a combined total of 12 spots on the top-20 lists.

The Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team captured its fourth straight Big Ten title on April 6, 2012, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a 352.950, making it the first program to win four in a row since Minnesota claimed the crown from 1977-80. The win marked Illinois' 27th championship all-time, which is the most among Big Ten schools. Michigan (351.850) took second place, followed by Penn State (350.000), Minnesota (345.800), Ohio State (343.650), Iowa (342.800) and Nebraska (340.700).

Freshman C.J. Maestas led the way, securing the all-around title with a career-high 89.500, making him the first Big Ten all-around champion for Illinois since Wes Haagensen took the crown in 2007. The win marked Maestas' team-leading fifth all-around title that season. Redshirt senior Paul Ruggeri took third with an 86.850.

The following night, Maestas earned Big Ten Gymnast and Freshman of the Year accolades, while Ruggeri captured the conference crowns on vault and floor during individual event finals. Head coach Justin Spring garnered his third straight Big Ten Coach of the Year honor, and Maestas and Ruggeri earned first-team All-Big Ten recognition.

The Fighting Illini wrapped up the regular season with a 425.400-424.250 loss to No. 11 Nebraska on March 23 at Huff Hall. Four Illinois gymnasts came away with titles, including fifth-year senior Austin Phillips, who notched his first title of the season with his first win on high bar since 2011. The Cornhuskers edged the Illini on four of six events, and the Orange and Blue posted a season-low team total after leading through five rotations in the 1.15-point loss on Senior Day.

This meet will mark the sixth 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.

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.

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 six meets due to injury and will miss the remainder of the season.

Sophomore C.J. Maestas will miss the entire 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 2012 Fighting Illini strung together an unforgettable season, highlighted by their first NCAA team title since 1989 and the first national championship for any Illinois program since 2003. The Orange and Blue also took home their fourth straight Big Ten crown and knocked off the top-ranked team in the nation three times throughout the season en route to a 28-2 overall mark.

The squad produced two NCAA event champions, 11 All-America honors, three Big Ten individual titles, two All-Big Ten selections, the Big Ten Gymnast and Freshman of the Year and its fourth-ever Nissen-Emery Award winner. Head coach Justin Spring was named National Coach of the Year after notching his third straight Big Ten Coach of the Year honor.

The Illini will take another two-week break before heading to Penn State to defend their national title at the NCAA Championships, April 19-21.