Men's Gymnastics
#7 Illini Ready to Defend Title at NCAA Championships

The Illini will look to defend their national title this weekend at the NCAA Championships.
The Illini will look to defend their national title this weekend at the NCAA Championships.

April 17, 2013

Complete Notes | Championship Central

Friday, April 19 // Qualifying Session I // Noon CT | Watch
Saturday, April 20 // Team & AA Finals // 6 p.m. CT | Watch
Sunday, April 21 // Individual Event Finals // 1 p.m. CT | Watch

The seventh-ranked Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team will travel to University Park, Pa., this weekend to defend its national title at the 2013 NCAA Championships, Friday through Sunday at Penn State's Recreation Building. Illinois boasts a 429.900 national qualifying average and will compete in the afternoon qualifying session on Friday, beginning at Noon CT. Team and all-around finals will take place Saturday at 6 p.m., followed by individual event finals on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The national qualifier will include both an afternoon and evening session. Illinois will compete in session one alongside No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 Minnesota, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 11 Air Force. The second session will begin at 6 p.m. and will feature No. 1 Penn State, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Iowa, No. 9 California and No. 12 Temple.

The top three teams from each session will advance to Saturday's team finals. The top three all-around competitors who are not on a qualifying team and the top three gymnasts on each event who did not qualify on a team or as an all-arounder will advance to finals as well.

The Illini fell to No. 7 in this week's national team rankings after a fifth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships on April 5. Illinois is in the top five on three events, ranking fourth on rings (74.512) and parallel bars (71.850) and fifth on floor (73.800).

Sophomore Mike Wilner leads the nation on rings with a national qualifying average of 15.637, while freshman Fred Hartville is ranked No. 1 on vault (15.337). Fellow newcomer Joey Peters checks in at No. 6 in the all-around (83.912), just ahead of senior Yoshi Mori, who is ranked seventh in the all-around (83.762). Meanwhile, junior Alex Varga is ranked sixth on floor (15.275), and senior Vince Smurro is ranked eighth on the same apparatus with a national qualifying average of 15.156. Overall, eight Illinois gymnasts hold a combined total of 10 spots on the top-20 lists.

The Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team climbed back from a two-point deficit in the final two rotations to win the 2012 NCAA Championships on April 20, 2012, at the Lloyd Noble Center. The Orange and Blue posted a season-high score of 358.850, including a school record-breaking 60.750 on pommel horse, to edge host and top-ranked Oklahoma (357.450), which finished second in the field of six. Penn State (354.800) placed third, followed by California (353.000), Stanford (352.650) and Michigan (351.050).

The win marked Illinois' 10th title in program history and first since 1989 and was the first national championship for any Illinois athletics program since the men's tennis team won in 2003. Nine Illini finished in the top 10 on various apparatuses during team finals to qualify for individual event finals.

The following night, C.J. Maestas became Illinois' first-ever NCAA still rings champion, while Paul Ruggeri matched his career high on vault to earn his fourth NCAA crown in his final performance as an Illini. The meet marked the third time in four years that Illinois came away with at least two national champions and was the first time in eight seasons that the Orange and Blue produced three pommel horse All-Americans (Yoshi Mori, Maestas and Chad Mason). In all, Illinois totaled 11 All-America accolades at the 2012 NCAA Championships, nine during event finals and two in the all-around (Maestas and Mori).

The sixth-ranked Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team ended its four-year reign as conference champion with a fifth-place finish in the 2013 Big Ten Championships on April 5 at Minnesota's Sports Pavilion. Michigan took home the title with a 438.900, followed by Penn State (434.050), Minnesota (430.350), Ohio State (426.600), Illinois (424.450), Iowa (422.500) and Nebraska (416.250).

Despite the disappointing team finish, freshman Fred Hartville posted a 15.550 on vault, marking the highest-scoring vault in Illinois history and second-highest in the NCAA this season. The Atlanta native finished first on that apparatus and advanced to individual event finals along with five other Illini, including sophomore Mike Wilner, who placed first on rings during team finals. Hartville notched the Big Ten vault title the following evening.

Less than 24 hours after breaking the Illinois vault record during team finals of the 2013 Big Ten Championships, freshman Fred Hartville captured the Big Ten vault title during event finals on April 6 at the University of Minnesota's Sports Pavilion. Hartville posted a 15.425 on vault to notch his first career Big Ten title, seventh vault win of the year and team-leading eighth victory overall this season. The Atlanta native is Illinois' second straight Big Ten vault champion, following former Illini standout Paul Ruggeri's win in 2012. Illinois has boasted at least one conference champion in each of the last 11 seasons.

Freshman Fred Hartville garnered first-team All-Big Ten accolades after notching the conference vault title at the 2013 Big Ten Championships. Senior Yoshi Mori joined Hartville on the list of first-team All-Big Ten honorees with a fourth-place finish in the all-around, while sophomore Mike Wilner, who placed second on rings, garnered second-team recognition.

In the beginning of the season, the NCAA 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 and 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 seven meets due to injury and will miss the NCAA Championships as well.

Sophomore C.J. Maestas missed 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.