Ruggeri, Maestas make national team at Winter Cup

h2. Ruggeri shakes off nervousness from past Winter Cup Challenge

_Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of a series highlighting Illinois gymnast Paul Ruggeri’s road to potentially qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games._

Senior Illinois gymnast “Paul Ruggeri”: was a little nervous heading into the 2012 U.S. Winter Cup Challenge, a weekend that doesn’t hold the best memories for him. In 2009, he couldn’t compete in the all-around because of minor injures, and in 2011 he suffered a season-ending injury to his “left ankle”:

As fate would have it, Illinois — at random — drew the exact same starts as last season: rings on the first day and vault on the second day.

“It’s pretty funny, just because I was the first person up both days on both events again,” Ruggeri said. “And it was the exact same rotation that I got hurt on last year, it was kinda weird.

“Obviously, I wasn’t planning on getting hurt again,” Ruggeri added with a laugh.

The six Illini competitors were injury free for the most part — senior Tyler Mizoguchi only competed in five events during Saturday’s finals because of issues stemming from a concussion sustained in the past few weeks — in a weekend in which Ruggeri and freshman C.J. Maestas retained their spots on the U.S. Senior National Team.

Illinois volunteer assistant coach David Sender, who was competing in his second meet since retirement in 2009, was placed on the national team after taking second on the vault and third on the rings. Ruggeri, who placed third on the floor and fourth on the vault and high bar, was named to the team based on national team points. Maestas, who took second on the rings, was selected to the team by committee.

“The big part of this meet was just pulling through and fighting,” Maestas said. “To make sure we finished all our routines.”

Illini senior Anthony Sacramento, junior Austin Phillips and freshman Mike Wilner did not make it past “Thursday’s competition”:

“It was good, it was interesting,” Illinois head coach Justin Spring said. “It certainly wasn’t the cleanest Winter Cup, and what I mean like that is I saw a lot of mistakes being made by a lot of the more consistent guys, including our guys.”

Ruggeri was happy to finally make a name for himself as a consistent performer after being riddled with injuries.

He switched up a few of his routines for the meet, leaving out his second vault, which he was injured on last year, instead sticking to the vault he’s been working on for the past two years, a Yurchenko half on with a front double twist.

“I’m comfortable with this one, it helped,” Ruggeri said.

He watered down his floor routine, where he has struggled in recent meets. Despite losing his balance on two landings and nearly falling on both days of competition, he took third in the event for his only medal of the weekend.

He was slated for a medal on the high bar but fell twice during the event finals, uncharacteristic for Ruggeri on the event. He still scored a 14.250 because of the high start value.

“I mean, it felt good to know,” Ruggeri said on narrowly missing the podium on two events. “Just to be in up in the mix with not perfect gymnastics is what I need to be doing.”

Winter Cup does not directly influence whether athletes make the U.S. Olympic team, but because it’s an Olympic year, every national competition is under constant watch from the Olympic committee, Ruggeri said.

“I’m definitely happy with coming out of this competition and staying on the national team,” Ruggeri said. “That’s really all you need to do right now, is stay on the national team and make Olympic Trials and be able to hit when it matters.”