Men’s gymnastics aims to hold on to No. 1 rank

Two weeks ago, freshman Yoshi Mori made his debut for the Illinois men’s gymnastics team at the Windy City Invitational after practicing for just three days. Mori placed first on the vault and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, helping the Illini take first in the national polls.

But that was then.

Now, after two weeks of practice, Mori is ready to step it up and participate in the all-around for the first time in collegiate competition in a dual meet against No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday at noon.

“We’re giving Yoshi an opportunity,” head coach Justin Spring said. “This is going to be a rough all-around. Hopefully he gets through and has some high points. He’s not as ready as he should be; I don’t expect perfection from him. We’re going to throw him in anyway, he’s a fierce competitor.”

Mori is confident with his role and excited to contribute more to the team.

“Knowing that I can compete like that after three days makes me feel a lot better because now I’ve had two weeks. I mean I feel really confident now,” Mori said. “I’m more excited than nervous that I’m actually doing this. Everyone’s telling me I just got here. They all say, ‘Take it easy, don’t worry about it.’ Everybody helps me out.”

Mori competing in the all-around is not the only change to the lineup, as Spring said sophomore Anthony Sacramento will likely be doing a very basic routine, as he’s coming off a shoulder injury. He is not sure what events Sacramento will compete in.

One consistency in the lineup will be junior Paul Ruggeri, who will compete in the all-around again. Ruggeri is not too worried about Ohio State.

“I definitely think we will keep winning,” Ruggeri said. “We did well at Windy City, but we have so much room to improve. We had so many falls at Windy City, but we were somehow able to keep a decent score and be the top-ranked team.

“Ohio State is a strong team. Obviously we are a stronger team, in my opinion. If we keep our heads on straight, we shouldn’t have any problems.”

Spring said the off weeks have been good for the Illini, who have been working on finalizing their routines.

He said that as this is their only break, now is the time to make changes. The team will most likely stick with their routines for the remainder of the season, working on perfecting them before the NCAA Championships.

Spring sees no reason the team should not improve on its previous score.

“I think the guys want to hold on to the ranking. It’s important to be ranked No. 1. The only place to go is down,” Spring said. “And this is great exposure for our program, for our school. I would be lying if I said the guys didn’t care about the rankings, because they absolutely do. I know they want it, they just have to compete well, which they are absolutely capable of.”