Illinois men’s gymnastics wins fourth straight Big Ten title

Heading into the final event of the Big Ten Championships on Friday night, the No. 4 Illinois men’s gymnastics team was .700 ahead of No. 1 Penn State.

The lead could have been larger, but Illinois had some costly mistakes on high bar and parallel bars – typically two of the Illini’s strongest events.

They needed four of their guys to hit their floor routines to secure a win. The Illini have strong start values on floor but have been inconsistent all season.

In a surprising turn of events, Illinois took its fourth straight Big Ten title. Michigan edged into second and Penn State finished third.

“We made some mistakes, but the guys just let it roll off their shoulders and got right back after it,” Illinois head coach Justin Spring said.

Freshman C.J. Maestas won the all-around title, narrowly beating out Michigan sophomore Sam Mikulak, who was last year’s Big Ten and NCAA all-around champion. Maestas qualified for the finals on rings, parallel bars, high bar and floor.

“C.J. competes with such passion,” Spring said. “He brings in such a competitive energy and his leadership in the competition environment is truly outstanding.”

Senior Paul Ruggeri had an uncharacteristic night, with mistakes on two of his strongest events – parallel bars and high bars. He earned some of his highest scores on his two weakest events: rings and pommel horse. Ruggeri qualified for the finals on floor, vault and pommel horse.

“We went into floor right after high bar and Paul was able to step up and have a huge anchor routine,” Spring said. “Last guy up on floor that got us into the win. He rebounded and did exactly what we wanted him to do.”

The Illini scored a 61.600 on the rings, breaking the school rings record. Maestas broke the individual school record on the rings with a 15.850. Seniors Anthony Sacramento and Kyle Moe and freshman Mike Wilner also qualified for the finals on the rings. Junior Yoshi Mori made the pommel horse finals. Sophomore Jordan Valdez, junior Austin Phillips and senior C.J. Padera advanced to the high bar finals, rounding out the nine Illini individual event finals.

“(Saturday’s) going to be interesting and we’ve got the ability to take home a lot,” Spring said. “We’re going to bring some great routines and hope for a couple of medals.”

The individual finals take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday night and will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.