Ruggeri secures rare win against Ohio State in gymnastics meet

By Daniel Johnson

COLUMBUS, Ohio – With as much as the upperclassmen were talking about their history with Ohio State this week, it may have been freshman Paul Ruggeri who had the biggest effect on the outcome.

Ruggeri, in arguably the best meet of his young career at Illinois, took both event titles in the floor exercise and horizontal bar and finished second on the vault. Ruggeri’s scoring, along with seniors Wes Haagensen, Tyler Yamauchi and freshman Roger Pasek, helped Illinois secure its first victory over the defending Big Ten Champion Buckeyes since 2002.

While Ruggeri may be a freshman, he was well aware of what was at stake for the team Saturday.

“The coaches had been telling us, our teammates had been telling us how many times we’ve lost to them in the past few years,” Ruggeri said of the 355.650-348.100 win. “They definitely made us feel the same way that they feel; they instill it in our brains.”

For Haagensen and the other upperclassmen, though, there was a sense of urgency against an Ohio State team that has given their team fits in the past.

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“I know for us seniors, we just kept telling the young guys this was one of those things that was more important than just a dual meet,” Haagensen said. “We weren’t out just for the meet and out for the win; we went out for the kill, It was kind of like we were going for blood here because of the past six years.”

If there wasn’t enough motivation at hand from the rivalry with the Buckeyes, there was also last weekend’s dual-meet loss to Minnesota still lingering for the men. The loss hit the team hard after its top-two finish at the Windy City Classic, and it was looking to prove that its stumble against Minnesota was a fluke.

“It was kind of demoralizing,” senior Tyler Yamauchi said about the loss to the Golden Gophers. “Especially with the home meet, having all of our fans there and having them come into our home gym and beating us, it gave us a lot of motivation for this week. It might have been a blessing in disguise.”

Part of the team will have next week off, as select members of the squad will be traveling to Las Vegas for the Winter Cup Challenge, a two-day showcase for top college gymnasts from throughout the country. The following weekend of Feb. 15-16, Illinois will play host to Penn State in what will likely be the biggest dual meet of the year.