Senior Luke Stannard.
June 15, 2010
It was quite an inaugural season for first-year associate head coach Justin Spring, as the former Illini standout helped guide the program to its second straight Big Ten title and final overall record of 22-5. Spring's gymnasts also earned numerous individual achievements, including the 2010 Nissen-Emery Award, five All-America honors, three Big Ten titles and two U.S. National team selections.
Illinois checked in at No. 5 in the first national rankings of the year and early expectations projected the Illini to finish second in the Big Ten behind Michigan. They immediately silenced critics with a first-place finish at the 40th annual Windy City Invitational to open the 2010 season, and captured their first victory at the meet since 2005 with a score of 353.750 to top four other top-10 teams including Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota.
Illinois' winning performance was ultimately rewarded in the weekly GymInfo national rankings as its score held the top spot for the next two weeks. Following a rare bye week, the Illini's next stop was at fifth-ranked Ohio State, where they again took care of the Buckeyes, 349.700-341.350.
The Illini took the next weekend off from team competition while nine members of the squad, including seniors Brian Liscovitz, Luke Stannard and Tyler Williamson, juniors Daniel Ribeiro, Paul Ruggeri and Chad Wiest, sophomores Tyler Mizoguchi and C.J. Padera and freshman Yoshi Mori, traveled to Las Vegas to compete in the 2010 Winter Cup Challenge for a chance to earn a spot on the 15-member U.S. Men's Senior National team.
Six Illini advanced to the finals of the two-day event led by Mizoguchi who was the top finisher for Illinois in the performance-based points ranking system with 36 points. Stannard finished close behind with 32 points, followed by Wiest (28), Ribeiro (20) Ruggeri (19) and Padera (14). Ultimately just two Illini would make the final cut however, as Mizoguchi and Ruggeri were named to the U.S. Senior National team for the first time in their careers after finishing in the top 10 in the national team selection points program.
The Illini were victorious in their home opener the following weekend against Minnesota and kept the hot streak going over the next month with road wins at Penn State, UIC and Iowa to set up a showdown with Michigan, which also was undefeated in the Big Ten. Despite tallying their highest score of the season up to that point, the Illini suffered their first loss of the year to the Wolverines by a single point, 359.650-358.650 at Huff Hall.
In the regular-season finale against UIC, the Illini closed out the year at home on a high note and rebounded with dominating performances and a new season-best score (362.250) to build up momentum heading into the postseason.
Illinois entered the Big Ten Championships ranked first in the team standings and in the top two on five events and that was exactly how the team finals played out, as the Illini captured their second straight conference title and 25th in school history, the most among any Big Ten school. Additionally, Spring, who was later named Big Ten Coach of the Year, became the first Illinois men's gymnastics coach to win the Big Ten title in his first season at the helm.
The battle between Illinois and rival Michigan, which were crowned co-Big Ten Champions last season after tying with a final score of 357.100, remained close throughout the night at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio, as the Wolverines held the slightest of margins heading into the final two rotations. Sophomore Anthony Sacramento posted a season-high score on rings to pull the Orange and Blue within 1.85 of first place, and in the final rotation on vault, the team tallied its third-best score of the season, led by Ruggeri's first-place finish on vault to overcome the deficit and claim the title with a final team score of 359.700.
Of the 10 Illini that qualified for the Individual Event Finals the following night, three took home Big Ten titles as Ruggeri won on vault and high bar for the first time in his career, Ribeiro captured his second-career pommel horse title and Padera secured the first Big Ten title of his career on parallel bars. It was the second straight year the Illini have tallied at least three individual event titles.
All three event winners earned first-team All-Big Ten accolades, while Liscovitz garnered second-team honors for the first time in his career after finishing in second place on parallel bars and newcomer Mori secured co-Freshman of the Year honors.
With a No. 1 national ranking and momentum heading into the NCAA Championships held in West Point, N.Y., the Illini were intent on bringing home the elusive national title. The week of NCAAs got off to a solid start, as Stannard became just the third Illini to win the prestigious Nissen-Emery Award at the NCAA banquet on the night prior to the start of competition. The award is presented annually to the nation's top senior male gymnast and honors excellence in gymnastics, good sportsmanship and fair play and a high standard of scholarship throughout his collegiate career.
Stannard joined David Zeddies (1989) and Spring (2006) as the only Illini to win the award since its inception in 1966. Additionally, Illinois swept Central Region Coach of the Year honors for the second straight year, as Spring took home Coach of the Year and Ivan Ivankov earned his second consecutive Assistant Coach of the Year accolade.
It was back to business the following afternoon, as the Illini advanced to the "Super Six" team final for the eighth straight year with a second-place finish (354.050) in the afternoon qualifying session behind defending national champion Stanford (359.000).
Illinois struggled in the team finals the following night, due in large part to a shaky start that involved one of the stranger occurrences in men's gymnastics. During just the second rotation for the Illini, the left ring broke shortly after the start of Williamson's routine that resulted in a lengthy delay to replace the broken ring.
Despite the team's best efforts, Illinois ultimately finished in fourth place (354.900) behind Michigan (360.500), Stanford (359.800) and Oklahoma (357.050), while individually, seven Illini qualified for event finals and Mizoguchi placed sixth in the all-around to earn his first All-America honor.
Three more Illini garnered first-career All-America accolades at the Individual Event Finals the next night, including Williamson and Sacramento on rings and Stannard on pommel horse, while Wiest captured his second All-America honor on floor. Illinois has had at least one All-American the last 11 years, in addition to eight straight years with at least five.
The season was capped off the following weekend at the team's annual awards banquet, where Stannard took home Most Valuable honors. Wiest was tabbed Most Outstanding and Most Improved along with junior Kyle Moe and earned the team's Scholar-Athlete Award, while Ribeiro was the recipient of the Fighting Illini Attitude Award and Padera earned the Yoshi Hayasaki Award for consistency.