After slow start, men’s gymnastics sweeps past Minnesota

Performing in front of its first home crowd of the season, the No. 2 Illinois men’s gymnastics team came out flat Saturday night.

But despite stumbling to season lows on the floor exercise and pommel horse in their first two rotations, the Illini turned it around and distanced themselves from No. 7 Minnesota, winning 350.650-342.150.

“The first two events we struggled on,” associate head coach Justin Spring said. “I was actually really impressed that we were able to walk away with that; we were able to turn around the competition after starting way under what we hoped to today.”

Junior Paul Ruggeri led the way, winning the all-around title with a score of 87.200 and also taking home individual honors on the floor exercise, vault and high bar.

Illinois swept the individual event titles, with junior Daniel Ribeiro winning the pommel horse, sophomores Anthony Sacramento and Tyler Mizoguchi tying for the win on the rings and senior Brian Liscovitz winning the parallel bars.

With their sights set on posting the highest team score of the season — which is 355.650 — Ruggeri and the rest of the Illini were somewhat disappointed with the final score.

“We’re shooting for a 360, and there’s no reason for us not to score a 360,” Ruggeri said. “We can definitely score a lot higher than we did (Saturday). Hopefully in a couple of meets we’ll be confident enough and hitting that consistently.”

Freshman Yoshi Mori had a difficult meet in the follow-up to his brilliant debut against Ohio State. After winning the all-around with an 87.400 against the Buckeyes on Jan. 30, he had several falls on his way to an 81.500 on Saturday.

“He had a long week,” Spring said. “He’s a freshman who just got on campus right before the start of the semester, he’s still getting acclimated. I wanted to rest him, but we had a talk a couple days ago and he very adamantly said, ‘Do not take me off of all-around.’ That could be a little bit of a freshman-proving-himself-type thing, which he doesn’t need to do.”

With the rough start quieting the crowd early, Mizoguchi found ways to get the energy level back up, including sticking a handspring double-front on the vault that elicited a roar from the crowd.

“It’s definitely the highlight of my night,” Mizoguchi said. “I’ve been waiting on that stick all year, all last year and it finally came. It was a great feeling.”

The sophomore had perhaps his finest meet of the college season, finishing second behind Ruggeri in the all-around with an 86.450. For Spring, there were promising signs from his two standout gymnasts.

“Paul’s finally starting to trust himself and be a little more relaxed on his routines, and Mizo’s starting to really actually enjoy competition,” Spring said. “Looking at the scores and the way we did, to still hit a 350 is encouraging. We walk away with another win, that’s exciting, but there are a lot of things we definitely want to improve on.”