Illinois men’s gymnastics looks to overtake Penn State in meet, standings

For the past few weeks, the Illinois men’s gymnastics team had been close behind No. 1 Oklahoma in the rankings, mere hundredths of a point “away from the coveted top spot”: But after the Illini posted their “lowest score of the season”: in a dual meet against UIC, Penn State has taken their place. The Nittany Lions (350.767) are now five hundredths of a point away from the Sooners, while Illinois stands in third with an average of 348 points.

The Illini’s chance to redeem themselves comes Saturday night when they travel to University Park, Pa., for a dual against the Nittany Lions.

“I think that as a team we definitely normally have it figured out,” Illinois “senior Paul Ruggeri”: said. “It was just kind of a fluke this past weekend, and we just can’t let it happen again.”

Illinois head coach “Justin Spring”: said the gymnasts’ problems weren’t with missed routines last weekend, but with having a “complacent attitude”: when competing against a lower-ranked team.

Penn State, along with its second-place standing in the country, is ranked first on still rings and parallel bars. Illinois is ranked first on high bar. Spring said the two teams match up evenly.

“Anywhere in the top three, it can be anyone’s day,” Spring said. “These guys want to go in and win this one.”

He thinks that with higher stakes the Illini will perform better. Also, this weekend marks the return of the “Winter Cup athletes”:, who rested after competing for spots on the national team. Senior Tyler Mizoguchi is taking another week off from competition, while Ruggeri will compete on four events and freshman “C.J. Maestas”: will compete in the all-around.

Spring thinks the return of Ruggeri and Maestas is needed because of their hardworking attitude which influences the other gymnasts.

“They had a week off which I think is more time than they needed,” Spring said. “They’re ready to step up, and I hope that the guys are ready to follow suit.”

Ruggeri hopes that all mistakes are out of the Illini’s system, as the clock is ticking with four meets left before postseason competition.

“We got a couple weeks to go and it’s time to go,” Ruggeri said. “To push as hard as you can and don’t look back. It’s not time for mistakes anymore.”

The turnaround begins with attitude, junior captain Austin Phillips said. He said the Illini have the ability to hit their routines, but must keep their energy level high.

“This week we wanna kinda lighten the mood,” he said. “It just seemed like everyone was a little tense, and we kinda wanna just bring their spirits up and let them know everything is OK.”

The pressure comes Saturday as the nation watches if the Illini will bounce back from their rough weekend. The meet will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and Penn State is known to attract a crowd.

“Are we gonna be a team that bounces immediately back from a mistake, or is three mistakes in a row going to take us out of the equation?” Spring said. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen. There’s some resilience to teams, they can make mistakes and come back and still win. I want to be that team.”