Illini men’s gymnastics wins fourth consecutive Big Ten title

Big Ten titles are becoming second nature for the No. 4 Illinois men’s gymnastics team. The Illini won their fourth straight title Friday night at the Big Ten Championships in Iowa City, Iowa, proving themselves as a “gymnastics powerhouse,” Illinois head coach Justin Spring said.

Not only did the Illini win the championship, but “freshman C.J. Maestas”: was named both Big Ten Gymnast of the Year and Freshman of the Year and won the all-around title. Saturday night, “senior Paul Ruggeri”: won individual titles on the floor and vault, and Spring won his third straight Big Ten Coach of the Year award.

“I’m really happy with the weekend and how the guys did,” Spring said. “Paul and C.J. really came through for us when we needed it. On floor, they stepped it up in that last rotation.”

The team victory was hard-earned, as the Illini suffered several mistakes, not living up to their potential on the pommel horse and parallel bars. Ruggeri, a world-class high bar competitor, fell on his routine and missed his dismount, failing to make the event finals. The Illini hit their routines in the final floor rotation, with Maestas and Ruggeri taking first and second for the evening, respectively.

“I just knew I needed to put it all out there on the floor and how important is was,” Ruggeri said. “The high bar was a big mistake, but I turned it around on floor.”

“It’s amazing,” Maestas said. “We came out here with goals to win Big Tens. We wanted a four-peat. We did that. I won the all-around. That was just icing on the cake, the last of my worries. But it’s cool to come out with that title too.”

The success is an appetizer for what the Illini are really gunning for, their first NCAA Championship in 23 years. If they are going to accomplish that goal, they are going to have to do better than their Big Ten performance, Spring said.

“Michigan was right behind us and Penn State, they had a rough night,” Spring said. “Penn State is not going to be happy when going into NCAAs. They are going to want revenge.”

Two weeks before the NCAA Championships in Norman, Okla., the Illini plan to fix their landings, something they struggled with this weekend and improve their routines, specifically on parallel bars and pommel horse.

“It’s not over — this is just the beginning of the road,” Maestas said. “We don’t want to get too cocky. We don’t want to get too excited. We still have one more big competition. I know the guys are still hungry, and I know we’re not going to be satisfied until we have that NCAA Championship as well.”