Illini Gymnasts Honored at Annual Awards Banquet
April 29, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Fighting Illini men's and women's gymnastics teams celebrated the 2012 season on Sunday afternoon at the I-Hotel in Champaign with their annual awards banquet, honoring the accomplishments of both squads while saying goodbye to seniors. Freshman C.J. Maestas and senior Kelsey Joannides took home Most Valuable honors for the men's and women's teams, respectively, for their contributions throughout the season.
Maestas, a three-time NCAA All-American in his debut season for the Orange and Blue, became Illinois' first-ever national still rings champion at the 2012 NCAA Championships, where he also finished second in the all-around to help the Illini to their first NCAA team title in more than two decades. Two weeks earlier, The Corrales, N.M., native took home the Big Ten all-around crown and was named both Big Ten Gymnast and Freshman of the Year at the 2012 conference championships, where he also placed second on floor, rings and high bar. Maestas tied redshirt senior Paul Ruggeri to lead the team with 20 titles this season, including eight on rings, five in the all-around and four on floor, marking team-high totals on all three apparatuses. The Illini newcomer secured at least one crown on every event except parallel bars and broke the school record on rings with a 15.850 during team finals at the Big Ten Championships. Maestas also competed at the U.S. Winter Cup Challenge in early February, earning a silver medal on rings and a spot on the U.S. senior national team for the third time in his career.
Joannides, the 2012 Big Ten Beam Champion, shared Most Consistent Beam honors with junior Alina Weinstein along with earning Team MVP honors. A first-team All-Big Ten selection, Joannides won her second career Big Ten title, tying for first on beam with a 9.900. Joannides, who won the Big Ten title on vault as a freshman, earned the 13th individual conference crown in school history and became the first two-time Big Ten champion at Illinois since the championships were officially recognized by the Big Ten in 1982-83. The Frederick, Md., native hit 49-of-50 routines, including all 13 on beam, and led the team with 19 individual titles, which tied for fourth-most in school history. She also tied for third in the all-around at the Big Ten Championships with a career-high 39.400.
Weinstein, who garnered Most Outstanding honors and shared Most Consistent Beam accolades, was the 10th individual NCAA national qualifier in program history. The Plainsboro, N.J., native advanced to the national meet by winning the all-around at the NCAA Champaign Regional with a career-high 39.450, making her just the second all-around regional champion in school history. She also tied for first on beam at the regional, becoming just the second Illini ever to win multiple regional titles, as she shares that honor with Nancy Thies, who won a combined seven crowns from 1976-77. A second-team All-Big Ten pick, Weinstein hit all 13 of her beam routines and tallied two of the top-10 all-around scores in program history.
Ruggeri was named Most Outstanding after earning his fourth career national title overall and first on vault, scoring a 15.500 to match the school record, which he set two weeks prior at the 2012 Big Ten Championships. The Manlius, N.Y., native also placed second on parallel bars at the NCAA Championships, garnering All-America honors on both events to end his Illini career as a nine-time All-American. Ruggeri took home the prestigious Nissen-Emery Award, given to the nation's top senior male gymnast, becoming Illinois' fourth honoree all-time. He also captured Big Ten titles on vault and floor at the conference championships, marking the fifth and sixth Big Ten crowns of his career. Ruggeri led the team this season with eight titles on vault and six on high bar and ends his career ranked third all-time at Illinois with 75 career titles. The fifth-year senior also took home a bronze medal on floor at the U.S. Winter Cup Challenge to earn a place on the senior national team for the fifth time in his career.
Senior C.J. Padera earned the Yoshi Hayasaki Consistency Award, competing in every meet for the Illini. The 2011 All-American spent the year in the national top-20 individual event rankings and was ranked 20th on both high bar and parallel bars going into the NCAA Championships. Padera advanced to the 2012 Big Ten high bar final, where he placed eighth. Two weeks later, he qualified for the NCAA high bar final, finishing 10th.
Sophomore Cole Smith garnered Most Improved honors after shattering his career high on pommel horse by seven tenths of a point with a 15.250 to help the Illini post a two-point comeback to win the NCAA team title. With his career night during team finals, the Santa Rosa, Calif., native finished fifth to advance to the NCAA Individual Event Finals, where he placed ninth. Smith, a pommel horse specialist, competed in eight meets for the Illini this season.
Sophomore Elizabeth McNabb was selected as the team's Most Improved Gymnast after making the beam lineup at every meet, beginning with her Illini debut at the season opener. The Fortville, Ind., native won her first title with a career-best 9.850 on beam against Ohio State. She hit 29-of-32 routines, recorded seven top-five finishes and tallied career highs on vault (9.600) and bars (9.775). Sophomore Amber See, a second-team All-Big Ten and Academic All-Big Ten selection, was awarded the team's Scholar-Athlete Award.
Junior Vince Smurro, sophomore and 2012 high bar All-American Jordan Valdez and freshman Josh Wilson were voted team captains for the 2012-13 season. Sophomore Alex Varga earned the team's Scholar-Athlete Award, while junior Yoshi Mori took home the Fighting Illini Attitude Award.
The Illini men 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 (Oklahoma) three times throughout the season, compiling a 28-2 record overall. The 2012 Illini produced two NCAA event champions, 11 All-America accolades among seven individuals, three Big Ten titles between two gymnasts, two All-Big Ten honorees and their fourth-ever Nissen-Emery Award winner. Head coach Justin Spring notched his third straight Big Ten Coach of the Year honor, while assistant coaches Daniel Ribeiro and Ivan Ivankov garnered Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year accolades.
For the fifth year in a row, the Illini women were represented at the NCAA National Championships, as Weinstein competed at nationals to wrap up the year for the Illini, who finished tied for 18th in the nation. Illinois, which hosted an NCAA Regional at the Assembly Hall for the first time in school history, placed third at the meet, marking its fifth-straight top-three regional finish. The Orange and Blue also boasted the second-ever regional all-around champion in school history and the program's first two-time Big Ten champion.
2012 Men's Gymnastics Award Winners
2012 Women's Gymnastics Award Winners