May 4, 2008
Champaign, Ill. - The Fighting Illini men's and women's gymnastics teams gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign Sunday afternoon for their annual awards banquet, celebrating season accomplishments and saying goodbye to seniors. Senior Tyler Yamauchi and sophomore Nicole Cowart took home Most Valuable honors for the men's and women's teams, respectively, for their contributions both in and out of the gym.
Yamauchi, a four-time All-American and 2008 All-American on vault, is one of only three Illinois gymnasts to earn All-America status in four consecutive years, while Cowart finished third in the all-around at the South Central Regional represented Illinois at the NCAA Championships in the all-around.
Most Outstanding Gymnast honors when to freshman Paul Ruggeri for the men, the 2008 NCAA High Bar Champion, and freshman Allison Buckley for the women, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Illinois' first NCAA All-American.
Freshmen also dominated the other awards, as rookies Lashlee Morris and Kyle Moe took home Most Improved honors for each team and newcomers Melissa Fernandez and Nate Luketin won the Scholar-Athlete Awards for having the highest GPAs on their respective squads.
Senior Michael Boyer was named the winner of the men's Fighting Illini Attitude Award and Buckley took home the women's Most Consistent Beam Award. The men also named junior Chris Lung and freshman Daniel Ribeiro as team captains for next season.
In addition to the honors handed out, both squads bid farewell to the senior classes. The Fighting Illini women said goodbye to a pair of seniors, Krystal Melcarek and Michelle McGrady, while the men's squad sent-off a stellar class of five seniors - Boyer, Jon Drollinger, Haagensen, Chris Silcox and Yamauchi.
The Illinois men had another stellar season to celebrate. Head Coach Yoshi Hayasaki led the Fighting Illini to a third place finish at the NCAA Championships and a runner-up finish at the Big Ten Championships. Seven Illini earned a total of nine All-America honors, led by Haagensen's three and Ruggeri's national title on high bar. Illinois boasted a pair of Big Ten Champions in Haagensen (high bar) and Ribeiro (pommel horse), who both earned First Team All-Big Ten status for their efforts.
The Fighting Illini women, meanwhile, enjoyed one of their best seasons in school history. Coach Bob Starkell's squad finished second at the Big Ten Championships, third at the NCAA South Central Regional and was ranked 15th in the final GymInfo rankings. In addition, Buckley and Cowart became the sixth and seventh Illini to advance to the NCAA Championships in the all-around, with Buckley bringing home second team All-America honors, and junior Julie Crall won the Big Ten Balance Beam title. Buckley was named South Central Region Gymnast of the Year and Amy Kruse was named South Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year.
2008 Illinois Women's Gymnastics Team Awards
Most Valuable: Nicole Cowart
Most Outstanding: Allison Buckley
Most Improved: Lashlee Morris
Most Consistent Beam: Allison Buckley
Scholar-Athlete Award: Melissa Fernandez
2008 Illinois Men's Gymnastics Team Awards
Most Valuable: Tyler Yamauchi
Most Outstanding: Paul Ruggeri
Most Improved: Kyle Moe
Fighting Illini Attitude Award: Michael Boyer
Scholar-Athlete Award: Nate Luketin
2009 Team Captains: Chris Lung & Daniel Ribeiro