Illinois gymnastics teams showcase talents at annual Mixed Pairs Exhibition this friday at Huff Hall.
Dec. 5, 2007
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Fighting Illini men and women's gymnastics teams will join together on Friday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. for the annual Mixed Pairs Exhibition meet at Huff Hall. Members of both squads will form teams of two female and two males to compete for the Mixed Pairs title, while both teams will be available for autographs and will be handing out team schedule cards at the conclusion of the event. Doors open at 6 p.m., and admission is free.
To open the season, the men boast a No. 8 ranking in the GymInfo national preseason poll and return everyone from last year's top-five NCAA team, including six All-Americans. The team is coming off a stellar 2007 campaign, where they finished fifth at both Big Tens and NCAAs despite not having a senior on the roster.
The coaching staff now leads one of the nation's most highly-touted freshman signing classes that includes Nate Luketin (Roselle, Ill./Lake Park), Kyle Moe (Champaign, Ill./Central), Roger Pasek (Sleepy Hollow, Ill./Dundee-Crown), Daniel Ribeiro (Chestnut Ridge, N.Y./Northern Highlands), Paul Ruggeri (Manlius, N.Y./Fayetteville Manlius) and Johnny Schell (Gaithersburg, Md./Gaithersburg).
The young group will then complement quite possibly the most talented senior class in the nation. That group includes high bar All-American Ross Bradley, who sat out last season with a shoulder injury, rings specialist Jon Drollinger, six-time All-American and reigning Big Ten Gymnast of the Year Wes Haagensen, 2007 high bar All-American Chris Silcox and three-time All-American and league vault titlist Tyler Yamauchi. With a senior class that has combined for a total of 11 All-American honors between them leading this title-hungry squad, the Illini are prepared for a successful season.
The women's gymnastics team also has high hopes coming into the 2008 season. Last year, the Illini finished the seasoned ranked 20th in the GymInfo Rankings, marking the highest final ranking in program history. The women also took fourth at the 2007 NCAA South Regional, equaling the highest finish for the Illini at regionals, and took third at the Big Ten Championships.
The Illini women return 22 of 24 routines from a year ago and add four talented freshmen to their roster. Of those returning, sophomore Nicole Cowart is expected to lead the way after finishing fourth in the all-around at the Big Ten Championships and garnering first team All-Big Ten honors in her freshman season. In addition, junior Julie Crall, a second team All-Big Ten honoree who had last season cut short due to an Achilles tendon tear, is back and should anchor a strong beam line-up.
Even with so much returning from a year ago, a very talented recruiting class of four is expected to push the returnees for line-up spots. Freshmen Allison Buckley (Schaumburg, Ill./Conant), Melissa Fernandez (Eudora, Kan./Eudora), Lashlee Morris (Leesburg, Fla./Leesburg), and Samantha Perino (Yorktown, Va./TABB) have all been impressive in the gym this far and should crack the line-up in several areas, making this year's team more dangerous than ever.
Both squads begin the regular season on the road. The women kick things off on Friday, Jan. 11 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against the University of Alabama at 7:30 p.m., while the men head to the Windy City Invitational hosted by the University of Illinois-Chicago on Saturday, Jan. 12, in Chicago.
The men and women open their home schedules with a co-ed meet on Saturday, Jan. 19. The women will take on Ohio State, while the men face Minnesota, with action kicking off at 7 p.m. at Huff Hall.