Gymnasts Ruggeri, Mizoguchi make U.S. national team

When nine members of the No. 2 Illinois men’s gymnastics team traveled to Las Vegas over the weekend for the Winter Cup Challenge, they went to compete for one of the sport’s highest distinctions, a berth on the U.S. national team.

On Thursday, six Illini qualified for the finals and along with 37 other athletes made their bid for the 17-spot roster. After Saturday’s competition ended, the gymnasts eagerly awaited the Men’s Program Committee to announce the roster.

For sophomore Tyler Mizoguchi, waiting was the hardest part.

“I remember just sitting there, my face was white, I was so nervous,” Mizoguchi said. “The judges were trying to pick the team and it was like a 30-minute wait. I really thought I was going to pass out, I was just so nervous.”

But when the results came back, it was announced that junior Paul Ruggeri and Mizoguchi had secured spots by finishing in the top 10 of the team selection points standings.

Ruggeri took 15th in the all-around competition, with a two-day combined score of 168.100, but was fifth place in selection points on the strength of a second-place finish on vault (32.250), fifth place on the high bar (28.500) and seventh place on the parallel bars (28.550). Mizoguchi finished 12th place in the all-around with a combined score of 169.000 while finishing second on parallel bars (29.200) and fifth on floor exercise (30.000).

Seniors Chad Wiest and Luke Stannard, junior Daniel Ribeiro and sophomore C.J. Padera also competed in finals for the Illini.

“It’s really an incredible thing for our program. We were tied for the most guys in finals. We had a really good showing, and we represented the Illinois program in a great way out there on the national floor,” associate head coach Justin Spring said. “It was a great place to go out and show that we are definitely one of the top teams in the country right now, and we really proved it out there this weekend.”

Wiest finished in third place on the floor exercise (30.200) and ninth on vault (31.400), while Ribeiro and Stannard placed sixth and 13th on the pommel horse, respectively. Stannard also finished ninth on high bar (28.000), while Padera tied for 12th (27.800).

For some of the Illini, aspirations were tempered.

“I just wanted to hit my events and see what I’d place,” Wiest said. “I just tried to go out there and have fun this weekend. It wasn’t a team competition, so it was more relaxed for me. If you mess up, it’s just you, it’s not like the team is relying on you.”

But for Mizoguchi, this weekend was about pursuing a life-long goal.

“My dream is to go to the Olympics, and being able to do this now sets my hopes up a little higher, and it’s going to make me train even harder now, knowing that I’m that close and that I have a chance.”