Apparently Justin Spring can coach as well as he can swing high bar.
One meet into his first season as an NCAA head coach at his alma mater, Spring’s University of Illinois team is the best in the nation — for now.
Illinois replaced 2009 NCAA champion Stanford at the top of the standings after posting the highest men’s NCAA total this season last week — 353.75 — against Michigan, Iowa, Illinois-Chicago, Ohio State and Minnesota at the Windy City Invitational. The Cardinal are exactly one point behind, having posted 352.75 against Cal last week.
What makes Illinois so good? A nice mix of youth, experience and talent. To begin with, the Illini have junior Paul Ruggeri, currently the NCAA’s top all-around gymnast. Ruggeri won the NCAA title on parallel bars in 2009 and is already a two-time NCAA champion on high bar (2008 and 2009). They have a pommel horse star in junior Daniel Ribeiro, who won the 2009 NCAA title on the horse. Ribeiro is so good on that event that he was made an alternate to the U.S. team for the 2009 World Championships principally for his pommel skills.
Freshman Yoshi Mori was kept under wraps at Illinois until the season began, and he is a nice addition to the team. In his collegiate debut last week, Mori won vault (15.9.) Not a bad start. Lastly, Illinois has plenty of depth. Sophomore Tyler Mizoguchi is a strong all-around gymnast, Chad Wiest can score highly on floor, and senior Luke Stannard is great go-to guy almost everywhere.
Illinois’s supremacy is not assured here. It’s worth noting that the season is still quite young and that the standings are bound to change after tonight. Illinois has a bye this week and will next face Ohio State on Jan. 30. Tonight, Cal gets another shot at Stanford, albeit on Cardinal territory.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s matchups:
Navy vs. Temple, Brockport, William & Mary and Springfield @ Navy (Navy Open)
Minnesota vs. Arizona State and Washington @ Minnesota
Stanford vs. Cal @ Stanford
Iowa vs. Oklahoma @ Iowa
Penn State vs. Michigan @ Michigan
Can’t miss meet of the week: Stanford vs. Cal, again. Yes, preseason no. 2 Cal lost to Staford by more than 12 points last week, turning them from potential competitor to underdog. But Cal was without Glen Ishino, arguably the team’s best all-around gymnast who was injured in warmup for last week’s meet against Stanford. Cal subsequently competed only four gymnasts on four of six events.
Cal’s strengths are pommel horse and parallel bars. If they have more to work with this week, they could do far more damage. Stanford senior Greg Ter-Zakhariants told The Stanford Daily this week that Ishino alone could make up 10 points for Cal. In order for the Golden Bears to win, though, they’ll have to get by a tough, tough Stanford team that includes supertumblers Tim Gentry and Eddie Penev and all-arounders Ryan Liberman and Alex Buscaglia. It’s a tall order.
Follow Gymnastics Examiner Blythe Lawrence on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GymExaminer.