Ruggeri piles up achievements

Gymnast+Paul+Ruggeri+earned+two+NCAA+individual+titles+this+season.%0A

Gymnast Paul Ruggeri earned two NCAA individual titles this season.

By Kyle Diller

Illinois gymnast Paul Ruggeri has racked up a tremendous number of accolades, and he is only halfway through his collegiate career.

The Illini ace just concluded his sophomore season, in which he earned a Big Ten team title, two Big Ten individual titles and two NCAA individual national titles. There is one major title that is still missing from his collegiate success, though.

“Of course, I’d love to have a team national championship,” Ruggeri said. “To my career, that would be awesome. Get a nice big ring on my finger and take home as many individuals as I can.”

At the 2009 NCAA Championships last weekend, Ruggeri defended his high bar championship while adding a parallel bar title to his already jam-packed trophy cabinet. He also came just short of a floor title, finishing runner-up in the event.

Ruggeri has become a star in these three events, but head coach Yoshi Hayasaki wants to see the Manlius, N.Y., native push himself to the next level.

“I think he should not give up competing as an all-around gymnast,” Haysaki said. “There are not many all-around gymnasts out there. The U.S. needs a good all-around gymnast that can carry the USA team.”

As he continues to be the star on the collegiate stage, Ruggeri’s coaches believe he is destined to shine on the national stage and eventually on the biggest stage of them all: international competition.

“Obviously the next step for him is to be on the national team,” Hayasaki said. “After that, who knows how far he’s going to go? It’s going to become more and more how much desire he has.”

Ruggeri came close to making the senior national team at the US Winter Cup Challenge in February, but a meniscus injury forced him to withdraw from three events. The points lost from withdrawing from those events were enough to prevent him from taking next step in his gymnastics career.

His assistant coach Justin Spring has already been to the highest level of gymnastics and came home from the Beijing Olympics with a bronze medal around his neck. Ruggeri cites Spring as an inspiration as he looks to follow the path of the Illinois alumnus to achieve international glory.

“If it weren’t for his knee, he would be on the national team,” Spring said. “Unfortunately, injuries happen, but he’s going to be just fine. He’s going to make that national team without a doubt coming up this summer. He’s going to continue to make it and excel and be part of USA gymnastics.”