Ruggeri edges Olympian, takes gold in high bar at Winter Cup

Brad+Meyer+The+Daily+Illini+Paul+Ruggeri+of+the+mens+gymnastics+team+performs+on+the+rings+at+the+home+meet+in+Huff+hall+against+Ohio+State+on+Saturday%2C+Jan.+24%2C+2009.%0A

Brad Meyer The Daily Illini Paul Ruggeri of the men’s gymnastics team performs on the rings at the home meet in Huff hall against Ohio State on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009.

By Kyle Diller

Nine Illinois men’s gymnasts competed at the U.S. Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas on Thursday and Saturday with their sights set on a prestigious spot on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team.

None made the team.

Sophomore All-American Paul Ruggeri came the closest. Had it not been for an injury that forced him to withdraw from three of his events, he would have earned a spot on the 15-man squad. Despite the injury, Ruggeri still managed to edge out Olympian Joe Hagerty to take the gold medal on the high bar.

“I’m still a little disappointed with my whole knee, just because I didn’t get to compete in everything,” Ruggeri said. “On high bar I was really happy with my performance, (it) definitely gave me a lot more confidence for the upcoming meets because I now know I can hit the routines. It feels good to beat Olympians.”

Ruggeri was in a three-way tie for the final two spots but missed out due to the injury. He was forced to remove himself from multiple events, including the floor routine, which is arguably his best event.

Daniel Ribeiro, another sophomore All-American, earned a second-place finish on the pommel horse but missed out on the Senior National team. Sophomore Roger Pasek also stood out, making it to the final round of the two-day event.

On one of gymnastics’ biggest stages, several freshmen also stepped up, particularly Tyler Mizoguchi and C.J. Padera, who finished 24th and 27th, respectively, in the all-around competition.

Although all the current Orange and Blue gymnasts missed out on the national team, the Illini will still have one representative on the team in the form of alumnus and current assistant coach Justin Spring, who received an automatic spot on the team for being part of the bronze medal-winning team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

While his Winter Cup Challenge ended in heartbreak, Ruggeri can take comfort in his gold-winning performance on the high bar and how close he came to making the team. Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said he sees Ruggeri following in his assistant coach’s footsteps and believes Ruggeri will be a member of the 15-man roster a year from now.

“I think his potential is very, very good. He had a very good chance of making the national team,” Hayasaki said. “I wish he had a chance to compete in all-around. His future is good.” Spring thought the reigning NCAA high bar champion wasn’t the only Orange and Blue gymnast who has a bright future.

“Some of the guys had a little bit of a reality check, but they took that very well,” Spring said. “They’re going to come back and work on it. They are on par with the rest of the country, they just need to clean it up now.”

Ruggeri will go under the knife on Wednesday to fix the damage to his meniscus but will only be sidelined for about two to four weeks. That gives him plenty of time to prepare for the 2009 Visa Championships in August, where he and his teammates will get another chance to earn a spot on the national team.

“I know that I’m right there and if I train well enough and work hard enough, it should be a goal I’m capable of grasping,” Ruggeri said.