June 8, 2011
The accolades and accomplishments were plentiful for the 2011 Illinois men's gymnastics team, as the Orange and Blue captured its third straight Big Ten team title and placed third at the NCAA Championships to secure its highest finish since 2008. Individually, two NCAA and Big Ten champions were crowned, four Illini earned All-America honors and the coaching staff swept the Central Region awards for the third year in a row.
Illinois entered the season ranked fourth in the first national rankings of the year and were picked to finish second in the Big Ten behind defending national champion Michigan. Similar to last season's start, the Illini immediately set the tone at their first meet of the year, the Windy City Invitational in Chicago.
Taking on Big Ten foes Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Iowa and host UIC, Illinois secured its second straight team title at the event and the winning score of 355.400 vaulted the squad into the top spot in the following week's national rankings. The Illini continued the momentum into the next two weeks of competition, as they were victorious over Minnesota and Nebraska in the first tri-meet of the season before defeating Iowa in their home debut at Huff Hall.
The Illini took the following weekend off from team competition. Six members of the squad, including seniors Daniel Ribeiro, Paul Ruggeri and Chad Wiest, junior Tyler Mizoguchi, redshirt sophomore Austin Phillips and freshman Jordan Valdez, as well as former Illini Luke Stannard and Wes Haagensen, traveled to Las Vegas to compete in the 2011 U.S. Winter Cup Challenge for a chance to earn a spot on the 15-member U.S. Men's Senior National team.
Seven Illini advanced to the finals of the two-day event, led by solid performances from Mizoguchi and Ribeiro. Mizoguchi was named to the national team for the second time in his career after placing seventh in the points program and ninth in the all-around, while Ribeiro successfully defended his national title on pommel horse.
Unfortunately, the weekend was not without a low point, as senior Paul Ruggeri suffered an ankle injury on vault that forced him to miss the remainder of the season. Ruggeri was able to retain his spot on the national team after serving as an alternate for the 2010 World Championships Team and was deemed eligible to redshirt and will return to the Illinois lineup next season.
With little time to adjust to significant changes in the rotation, the Illini dropped consecutive meets to Michigan and Penn State, before recording three straight runner-up finishes on the road in two tri-meets and a quad meet that included eventual national champion Stanford and perennial powerhouse Oklahoma.
The Illini rebounded with a win at home against UIC in the final meet of the regular season before hosting the Big Ten Championships at Huff Hall for the first time since 2004. Illinois had remained atop the conference rankings in nearly every event all season long and solidified its dominance with its third straight Big Ten title and 26th in program history, the most among any Big Ten school. Illinois also became the first school to win three consecutive titles since Ohio State, which accomplished the feat from 2005-07.
Of the nine Illini that qualified for the individual event finals the following night, two took tome Big Ten titles. Ribeiro claimed his second straight and third overall on pommel horse, and Wiest collected the first of his career on floor. Each earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, as did Mizoguchi for his third-place finish in the all-around, while head coach Justin Spring earned his second straight Big Ten Coach of the Year honor.
Following a week off from competition, the Illini traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for the NCAA Championships hosted by Ohio State. At the College Gymnastics Association/NCAA awards banquet held the night before the start of competition, the Illinois coaching staff was recognized for the third straight year, as Justin Spring was named Central Region Coach of the Year, and Ivan Ivankov and Luke Stannard garnered Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year accolades.
Ranked fourth in the country with a national qualifying average of 354.600 heading into the championships, Illinois competed in the afternoon qualifying session along with top-ranked Oklahoma, Penn State, Minnesota, Air Force and UIC. Despite a shaky start to the meet, the Illini battled through to earn a spot in the "Super Six" team final for the ninth straight year.
In the team finals, the Illini put together their best overall performance of the season and tallied a season-high score of 360.150 to take third behind Stanford (363.450) and Oklahoma (361.600). Mizoguchi led the way with a runner-up finish in the all-around to secure his second All-America honor and was one of five Illini to qualify for the individual event finals.
Mizoguchi added some hardware the following night, as he claimed the first NCAA title of his career on parallel bars, while Ribeiro concluded his collegiate career with his second NCAA title on pommel horse. The wins marked the second time in three years Illinois produced at least two national champions. In addition to Mizoguchi and Ribeiro, juniors Anthony Sacramento and C.J. Padera also collected All-America honors, as Sacramento tied for second on rings and Padera tied for eighth on parallel bars.
The season was capped off with the team's annual awards banquet, where Ribeiro captured Most Valuable honors, as well as the Yoshi Hayasaki Award for consistency after leading the team with a career-high 12 individual titles. He also never placed lower than second on pommel horse and finished runner-up only twice all season.
Mizoguchi, who was named Most Outstanding, won a career-best nine individual event titles, posted 26 top-three finishes and set school records in the all-around and parallel bars. Phillips, who was forced to miss the 2010 season due to a knee injury, received the team's Most Improved Award after returning to the lineup for 11 meets this season and won event titles on rings and high bar. Along with Phillips, Sacramento and Kyle Moe were voted team captains for the 2011-12 season, while Wiest earned the team's Scholar-Athlete Award for the second consecutive year, and freshman Jordan Valdez took home the Fighting Illini Attitude Award.