Gophers to challenge men’s gymnastics’ perfect head-to-head record

The No. 4 Illinois men’s gymnastics team hopes to end the season undefeated in head-to-head competition with a win against No. 7 Minnesota on the road Saturday.

The Illini are feeling good after defeating No. 5 Michigan, the team many had predicted would be the one to beat in the Big Ten. While Minnesota may not be earning all the praise the Wolverines were, Illini head coach Yoshi Hayasaki believes the Golden Gophers could ruin his team’s undefeated season but that his team is in the right frame of mind.

“The season without a loss has a lot to do with the camaraderie these guys have and the hard work they’re putting in during practice,” Hayasaki said. “They have the chemistry right now.”

Illinois has already faced the Golden Gophers twice this season in tournament competition, and the Orange and Blue finished ahead of Minnesota in both meets.

Sophomore Daniel Ribeiro, ranked No. 1 on the pommel horse, has become an unstoppable force for the Illini. The All-American posted the highest pommel horse score in the country March 7 against the University of Illinois-Chicago — a near-perfect 15.950.

“I think the most important part is for us to go out there and number one, be healthy, and number two, hit our routines,” Ribeiro said. “Consistency right now is the key, and that’s what’s going to give us a championship.”

Ribeiro has taken the crown on the pommel horse in his past three meets.

The Illini have also been helped by the return of All-American Paul Ruggeri, which was an immediate morale booster. Ruggeri took two individual crowns against Michigan last weekend.

“It’ll carry our confidence (to close the season on a win),” Ruggeri said. “We’re finally seeing our hard work pay off because we’re beating teams that we haven’t been able to beat in the past.”

Their eyes set on the Big Ten Championships all season long, the gymnasts will look to deal one final knockout blow to a Big Ten rival.

“Minnesota could be a dark horse in this competition,” Hayasaki said. “I think they have pretty good talent but haven’t really posted high scores. But I think they have the team that could put in some good scores at the end of the season.”