Freshmen step up in Ruggeri’s absence, help defeat Penn State


By Kyle Diller

With ace Paul Ruggeri sidelined with an injury, there were major doubts for the No. 3 Illinois men’s gymnastics team when it matched up against No. 4 Penn State in Huff Hall on Saturday night.

However, other members gave the team exactly what it needed when they stepped up and filled the void, as the Orange and Blue defeated the Nittany Lions, 345.5-339.8.

“Obviously we competed here without Paul Ruggeri, it’s kind of nice to win that without Paul Ruggeri,” head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. “We count on a little more than 40 percent on freshmen routine. We’re asking a lot, these guys stepped up today.”

Although Penn State senior and defending NCAA all-around champion Casey Sandy dominated the competition by winning four out of the six events and the all-around, two Illini took top honors in their events.

Junior Brian Liscovitz and sophomore Daniel Ribeiro won the high bar and pommel horse, respectively, as they helped lead Illinois to its second victory over Big Ten opposition this season. All-American Ribeiro especially led a strong night for Illinois on the pommel horse, as the Orange and Blue took the top four spots in the event.

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    “They were NCAA Champions, like, two years ago. It feels really good to beat them,” freshman Austin Phillips said. “Big Tens and NCAAs are really where you want to see what happens, but right now is awesome to just keep knocking down these competitors.”

    It was a night for the freshmen to shine in Ruggeri’s absence, as Tyler Mizoguchi and Phillips took second and third, respectively, in the all-around competition.

    “I feel like the freshmen just did a tremendous job in adding confidence to the team.

    We really showed them that we have what it takes no matter what,” Mizoguchi said. “I kind of feel like we can go to any competition now and just dominate. Nothing is stopping us this year.”

    The Illini faithful had something else to celebrate that night because Saturday also marked Justin Spring Night, a celebration for his success in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

    The Illini alumnus and assistant coach was a member of the six-man team that won the bronze medal last summer.

    “I appreciate the University giving me so much respect and so much recognition,” Spring said. “They supported thoroughly throughout my career and then even now that I’m not an athlete here, they’ve followed me and supported me in so many ways. I thank them very much.”