Ribeiro steps up in vault as Illinois men’s gymnastics breezes past Penn State

Heading into Saturday night’s dual meet at Penn State, Illinois junior gymnast Daniel Ribeiro had two major individual goals in mind for the season.

The first was to repeat as the NCAA champion on pommel horse, a title he’ll have to wait two more months to defend. The second was less ambitious but perhaps more surprising.

“I want to break into the lineup on vault within the next couple weekends,” Ribeiro said Wednesday.

He didn’t have to wait long. Saturday night, with senior Luke Stannard not feeling well after his floor exercise, associate head coach Justin Spring turned to Ribeiro to fill in. The junior team captain did more than just fill in, winning the first vault he competed in since high school with a 16.150, the second-highest score in school history.

“That was kind of a miracle,” Spring said. “I remember getting into it with Dan pretty heavy in the practice gym only about two weeks ago, and he said he wasn’t ready. I spent maybe 10 minutes talking and convincing him he was ready, and he finally went back and flipped a few of them.”

Behind Ribeiro’s wins on vault and pommel horse, No. 1 Illinois easily topped No. 5 Penn State, 354.600-345.950. The Illini’s score was the highest in the NCAA this weekend and marked the team’s best performance of the season.

Junior Paul Ruggeri turned in another successful meet, winning the all-around (87.700) and taking individual titles on the parallel bars and high bar. His parallel bars score of 15.550 set a new school record.

Ruggeri and sophomores C.J. Padera, Anthony Sacramento and Tyler Mizoguchi all garnered second place honors— Ruggeri on the floor exercise, Padera on high bar, Sacramento on rings and Mizoguchi on both vault and parallel bars.

Despite all the individual successes, the team still had its struggles in a couple events.

“Our ring team was shaky, we weren’t holding the strength parts, and on pommel horse we had a lot of falls,” Spring said. “Our pommel lineup could be one of our strongest events, so we’re not too worried about that. But we do need to start hitting a little more consistently on that event. You train to peak at the postseason, so we’re in the process of doing that, and we’ll get there on rings as well.”

Those two weaknesses happen to coincide with Ruggeri’s least dependable events, a fact which he will look to correct in the coming weeks.

“I got pretty low scores on the pommel horse and rings,” Ruggeri said. “So instead of working on the harder stuff, I’m going to have to transition to working on the easier, simpler routines I’m not so good at.”

With a couple intense weeks of practice coming up and a number of correctable mistakes, the Illini feel that the sky is the limit for this team.

“There’s still a lot of room to grow,” Spring said. “That’s great news, but we’ve got to figure out how to hit on the same day.”