Men’s gymnastics with plenty of reason to celebrate

Donald+Eggert+The+Daily+Illini+Illinois+Chris+Lung+competes+on+the+pommel+horse+during+the+gymnastics+meet+against+UIC+on+Saturday%2C+March+7%2C+2009+at+Huff+Hall.+Illinois+defeated+UIC+357.85-342.8%0A

Donald Eggert The Daily Illini Illinois’ Chris Lung competes on the pommel horse during the gymnastics meet against UIC on Saturday, March 7, 2009 at Huff Hall. Illinois defeated UIC 357.85-342.8

By Kyle Diller

The No. 4 Illinois men’s gymnastics team had plenty to celebrate along with its 100-year celebration and Senior Day on Saturday, as it defeated No. 12 University of Illinois-Chicago.

The Illini closed out their home season in style as they recorded a season-high score of 357.850 against the Flames, who managed a score of 342.800. Illini gymnasts won the five individual titles of the night. Illinois also recorded season-high scores on the floor, vault, pommel horse and high bar.

“I think we’re on the right track, I believe everybody has improved,” head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. “I think we’re going into the last three weeks of the season with the right pace.”

The night was also one of jubilation as Huff Hall celebrated 100 years of Illinois men’s gymnastics. More than 100 alumni returned to Champaign to watch as their alma mater overwhelmed its sister school. Although many of the gymnasts have long since graduated from the University, there are strong family ties in the program’s history and present.

“It was the best thing in the world. It just shows what Illini pride, what Illinois men’s gymnastics is about,” said Daniel Ribeiro, currently a member of the gynastics team. “To have all of our Illini alumni back, it’s just the greatest feeling ever to know we are a family. It’s just amazing, so many emotions.”

Saturday also marked Senior Day for the Illini gymnasts as the Orange and Blue faithful celebrated the contributions of Chris Lung, Nate Luketin and Nick Stango during the past four years on the emotion-packed night.

“The fans, all the hard work, everything went into this meet. You just appreciate it,” Lung said. “It hit me this morning, I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be my last meet at Huff Hall,’ and then after my last high bar set, when we got in the huddle I was trying to give a little speech and I broke down a little bit. My parents are here and just everything was awesome.”

All-American Paul Ruggeri gave the Illini fans yet another reason to cheer as he returned from the meniscus injury that has kept him sidelined since the U.S. Winter Cup Challenge on Feb. 7. Although he did not compete, he did do an exhibition on the high bar to show he is on the verge of a return to the team.

Hayasaki believes that his team is right on track to achieve its season goal to become Big Ten and NCAA champions. After going out on a high note in Huff Hall, the seniors want to end their careers with one final high note.

“I have to win Big Ten Championships or NCAA Championships. I need a ring on my finger,” Lung said. “I have been here for four years and we have come in second way too many times. I need to get some fruit of my labor.”