Ruggeri and Ribeiro notch individual titles


Photo Courtesy of Illinois division of Athletics Illinois’ Daniel Ribeiro (left) won the pommel horse event at the NCAA national gymnastics championships. His teammate Paul Ruggeri (right) took first in both parallel bars and high bar competitions. Both were named All-Americans in their events. Roger Pasek also earned All-American honors.

By Kyle Diller

The Illinois men’s gymnastics team came up short at the NCAA Championships, but sophomores Paul Ruggeri and Daniel Ribeiro shined on the big stage as both took individual national titles.

The No. 3 Illini finished fifth in the team finals Friday night as No. 1 Stanford won the national title and co-Big Ten champion Michigan finished runner-up.

Although the Illini took three individual titles, the team admits too many mistakes were made when it really counted in the team finals.

“Those top six teams are just equally matched teams, and any one of those teams could have won in the finals,” Illinois head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said. “We just made more mistakes than others. One on parallel bars, just one event that hurt us. That did it in the finals. These things happen.”

Ruggeri added even more success to his impressive gymnastics resume as he defended his NCAA high bar title while also adding a NCAA parallel bar title.

The Illini ace also finished runner-up in the floor routine and earned four All-American honors on Saturday.

“It feels great to end the season on a high note, especially after having surgery halfway through the season. To come away with two titles at NCAAs is great,” Ruggeri said. “Of course, we were a little disappointed (with the team result). It fueled the fire for us — for me, Daniel and the other guys that were in finals.”

Entering the tournament as No. 1 in the nation on pommel horse, Ribeiro proved his status as the nation’s best by taking home the title in the event. This also marked the second year running that Ribeiro has earned All-American honors in the event.

“It’s been an individual goal of mine for the past two years,” Ribeiro said. “Coming in with the No. 1 ranking comes with a lot of pressure, but I was able to have enough to pull it together and hit the routine.”

Sophomore Roger Pasek was the other Illini to earn All-American honors, while senior Chris Lung came up just short in his final meet.

The NCAA Championships were also the last meet with Hayasaki as the team’s head coach. While it didn’t end with a second NCAA title for the coach, he was pleased with where he left the program.

“We were superb on Thursday. Maybe we just peaked one day too early,” Hayasaki said. “My focus as a coach was going for the Big Ten Championships. Any other year my focus is on the final day of NCAA’s. Our entire energy went to the Big Ten Championships.”

While Hayasaki won’t be the man in charge next season, the team’s two reigning NCAA champions still have two years left before graduation and both agree that there’s only one thing left for them to accomplish.

“The next goal is a nation championship as a team,” Ribeiro said. “The NCAA team, it’s the one. It’s the one I’ll be fighting for the next two years with everything I got. I think the team can attest to that.”