Ruggeri earns third All-American status

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Daniel Johnson

After earning All-American status in his first two individual events at the NCAA Championships, Paul Ruggeri had one more apparatus to deal with.

The event was the high bar, in which he had been ranked No. 1 in the nation during the season in the Troester Poll.

“I wasn’t expecting to be ranked No. 1 at all during the year, so I wasn’t going into NCAAs with any expectations on the high bar,” Ruggeri said. “I was just one of the few guys who hit as many routines on it (throughout the season) to get the ranking that I did.”

Regardless of what Ruggeri felt about his abilities, he now had to face the pressure – or lack thereof – of chasing his third All-American title on his “best” event.

“Personally, when I compete, I’m always nervous on the first event, maybe the second one,” Ruggeri said. “After I get the first routine done with and under my belt, even if I don’t do a great job, I’m not nervous anymore.”

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The event order worked out in Ruggeri’s favor, and the Manlius, N.Y., native was able to approach the bar with a sense of calm before his final event of the Championships.

Ruggeri worked through his routine, executing both release moves smoothly, finished his second set of releases and stuck his landing.

The freshman’s score of 15.000 wasn’t the final score to be posted, but it turned out to be the best score of the meet. Ruggeri won his third All-American award and, more impressively, the national title on the event.

“It was something that I was thrilled to win, but I wasn’t surprised to win it,” Ruggeri said. “I’ve said it before; I’ve never worked harder for something in my life than this season and NCAAs.”

Ruggeri credited his teammates, coaches and staff for getting him to where he was as a gymnast this weekend, becoming the first, first-year letter winner to capture a National Title since 1960. His three freshman All-American Honors rank higher than U.S. National Team member and former Illini, Justin Spring, and are the most ever by an Illinois freshman.

“I made three event finals as a freshman, but I could only come away with two titles,” Spring said. “When the pressure is on Paul, he comes up huge, he’s a gamer. He has one of the lower starting point values for someone as good as himself on high bar, so he has to be really clean. But it’s something that he does so well, and it stands out.”

Ruggeri’s roommate, fellow freshman All-American Daniel Ribeiro, also recognizes how they have progressed this year.

“We’ve helped each other a lot throughout the season, as roommates, as teammates; I think it’s been to our advantage because we’ve both had great years,” said Ribeiro, who was ranked No. 1 on pommel horse throughout portions of the season. “Four All-American (awards) between us and his National Championship – it’s amazing.”

Ruggeri’s challenge for next year, and for the remainder of his time at the University, will be becoming the next top all-around gymnast. While Ruggeri was definitely a top performer for the team this year, he will now be asked to lead more and improve upon his two weaker events – the pommel horse and still rings.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki will be pushing Ruggeri, and the team, to get stronger throughout the offseason. Hayasaki said he wants Ruggeri, who the coach said has an exceptionally strong lower body, to strengthen his upper body.

“That’s going to be his agenda, to become stronger physically, especially his upper body,” Hayasaki said.

Ruggeri has said that he will be drawing upon help from his roommate to help him with the pommel horse and shore up the rest of his routines.

“He’s been helping me some already, but I’ll definitely be getting more help from him with the event,” Ruggeri said. “When you do as well as Daniel did, it’s a nice thing to have there to work from.”

Regardless of who is helping whom, Hayasaki believes that after seeing Ruggeri perform this year, there are better things to come.

“When it comes together for him, he’s going to be an exceptional all-around gymnast,” Hayasaki said.



2. * Cole Storer (14.925) – MINN

3. * Josh Dixon (14.800) – STAN

4. * Chris Brooks (14.750) – OKLA


6. * Thomas Kelley (14.700) – MICH

* Dylan Carney (14.700) – STAN

* Steven Lengendre (14.650) – OKLA

* Alex Buscaglia (14.650) – STAN

10. David Sender (13.175) -STAN


* Earned All-American Honors

# Defending 2007 National Champion