National Champs Receive Warm Welcome from Illini Nation
April 22, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The national champion Fighting Illini men's gymnastics team was welcomed home by over 100 fans Sunday evening outside the Bielfeldt Athletic Administration Building in Champaign.
After three incredible days of competition that saw the team win its first NCAA title in 23 years, two individual event champions crowned and 11 All-America honors, head coach Justin Spring and the Fighting Illini were happy to return to Champaign.
"This is unbelievable," Spring said of the welcome. "Champaign has always been amazingly kind to Illini sports. We have so much support and backing and I'm so happy for these guys. It's an honor to be able to bring a title back to Champaign because it's such an amazing community that's always supported us."
On Friday night (April 20), the Fighting Illini won the program's first NCAA championship since 1989, edging out host and top-ranked Oklahoma, 358.850-357.450. Illinois entered the championships ranked fourth nationally but had the top score during Thursday's qualifying session to enter the six-team final as the top seed. Things looked bleak after four of six rotations in the team final, as the Illini trailed the Sooners by over two points. But the Orange and Blue roared back on their final two events, the pommel horse and the still rings, to pass the Sooners and win the program's 10th NCAA title. It also marked the first national championship for any Illinois sport since men's tennis in 2003.
At Saturday's individual event finals (April 21), freshman C.J. Maestas and senior Paul Ruggeri each took home a national title. Maestas won the first still rings title in Illinois history with a score of 15.3, while Ruggeri won his fourth-career national title on his final collegiate routine, scoring a 15.5 to share the vault crown with Stanford's Eddie Penev. In all, Illinois totaled 11 All-Americans at the 2012 NCAA Championships, nine during Saturday's event finals and two on Friday in the all-around (Maestas and Yoshi Mori).