Illini athletes receive Eddleman awards

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Illinois’ Paul Ruggeri competes on the high bar during the gymnastics meet against UIC on Saturday, March 7, 2009 at Huff Hall. Ruggeri and Angela Bizzarri are the 2008-09 Dike Eddleman award for the best Illinois athletes of the year.

By Kevin Kaplan

The University announced the winners of the 2008-09 Dike Eddleman awards Wednesday afternoon for the best Illinois athletes of the year.

Gymnast Paul Ruggeri took home the award on the men’s side, while track and field and cross-country runner Angela Bizzarri claimed the award for the women.

Ruggeri won the award after placing first at nationals in both the parallel bars and high bar as a sophomore.

“It’s a great honor to be associated with the award because so many great athletes, professional athletes, Olympians have come before me and received this award,” Ruggeri said.

A gymnast since the age of seven, Ruggeri hopes to follow in the footsteps of his coach, Justin Spring, who went on to medal in the Olympics after winning the Dike Eddleman award.

During last gymnastics season, Ruggeri won conference championships on parallel bars and floor and took home 13 individual event titles in addition to his two individual national titles. Based on those results, Ruggeri may have more Dike Eddleman awards in his future, though that isn’t something that he is thinking about yet.

“Of course it’s too early, you never know what can happen in the future, you know,” Ruggeri said. “Injuries happen. I mean those are always unexpected, but you hope to avoid those, and if I continue to avoid those then continue to improve, (you) never know what can happen.”

While Ruggeri would be aiming at his second Dike Eddleman award next season as a junior, Bizzarri would be pursuing her third as a senior. The junior received the honor for the second year in a row after winning the 5,000 meters both at the Big Ten Championships and at nationals. Bizzarri also placed sixth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

“It’s been a really good season. I won my first NCAA title, so I couldn’t be happier,” said the multi-sport athlete.

Winning the award a third time would not be out of the question for Bizzarri, who need only look at Illinois track and field great Perdita Felicien, who won the award from 2001-2003.

Illinois women’s track and field has been well represented in recent years, as Bizzarri’s accomplishment marks the fifth year in a row that the women’s Dike Eddleman award has been earned by a track and field athlete.

“We have a really great track and field program, obviously, so I mean it’s great to keep it on going. We have a lot of good girls now and hopefully it will continue for years to come,” Bizzari said.