Pacific Invite to provide peek at National Championships

Donald+Eggert+The+Daily+illini+Illinois+Austin+Phillips+competes+on+the+floor+exercise+at+the+gymnastics+meet+against+Penn+State+University%2C+Saturday+Feb+14%2C+2009+at+Huff+Hall.%0A

Donald Eggert The Daily illini Illinois’ Austin Phillips competes on the floor exercise at the gymnastics meet against Penn State University, Saturday Feb 14, 2009 at Huff Hall.

By Kyle Diller

The No. 6 Illinois men’s gymnastic teams will be able to test their NCAA Championship credentials as they compete against many of the nation’s top teams in the Pacific Coast Invite on Saturday.

The Orange and Blue can expect to meet their toughest competition in a meet billed as a “preview of the 2009 NCAA National Championships.” It will be a good opportunity to see where the Illini match up against teams like No. 2 Cal, No. 3 Stanford, No. 4 Michigan and No. 5 Minnesota.

“There are a couple of teams we haven’t met yet, and they are top-ranked teams, Stanford and Cal-Berkeley” head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. “I expect this to be a tough competition, along with a few other Big Ten teams. It’s going to be a tough meet, and we’re just going to have to do much better than we did last weekend.”

Although the Illini proved themselves capable of winning without sophomore All-American Paul Ruggeri in a win against No. 2 Penn State last weekend, the competition of the Pacific Coast Invite could reveal the hole left in the squad by the team ace’s meniscus injury.

With or without Ruggeri, this will prove to be Illinois’ biggest challenge of the season ahead of the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. The Illini have talent and will need to rely on its other All-Americans when facing the nation’s most difficult competition. Sophomore All-American Daniel Ribeiro will be especially key in the Illini’s bid for success as the reigning Big Ten pommel horse champion, but victory is not the main goal.

“This is just another stepping stone to get to Big Ten Championships. It’s another competition to build confidence,” Ribeiro said. “I would take us getting consistent over winning. If we could go out there and hit our routines, I would take that. That’s more important than winning, but winning it would be great as well.”

The freshmen have also been hitting their peak form. The team’s promising rookies have begun to show they have what it takes to play a major role this weekend.

Hayasaki has made it no secret that he has plans for Big Ten and NCAA domination this season, and after a few early season successes, the gymnasts are exuding a sense of confidence in themselves and their teammates.

“It’ll be a good preview for what’s to come and we can show everyone where we’re at. I think we’re a little underestimated,” freshman C.J. Padera said. “I think we can really produce big here against the big teams.”