STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – It had been 40 years since the storied Illinois men's gymnastics program produced an NCAA all-around champion.
On Thursday night, sophomore Travis Romagnoli ended the drought and took his place with four other Illini greats in the sport.
"It hasn't really sunk in quite yet," Romagnoli said after winning the all-around with a score of 58.225. "It means a lot. It means that all the hard work throughout the season has paid off. I'm just really happy about it."
With Romagnoli's considerable help, Illinois advanced to tonight's finals of the team competition. The Illini are guaranteed their highest finish in the NCAA Championships since the 1989 squad won the UI's ninth title. Illinois is tied with Penn State for the most team crowns in the meet's 56-year history.
By placing third in the six-team preliminaries on Thursday, Illinois captured the final spot in the finals. The Illini will be joined by defending champion California and Big Ten Conference champion Iowa.
"I never expected to get this far," said UI coach Yoshi Hayasaki, whose young team entered with the No. 5 regional score among the six national qualifiers. "We wanted to just get to the national championships. That was our goal, and we did that.
"You can tell our team is excited, and I want them to be excited. They worked hard to get here and now they're in the top three."
Romagnoli is the fifth Illini to win or share the NCAA all-around title and the first since Abie Grossfield in 1958. The others are Joe Giallombardo (1938-39-40), Paul Fina (1940) and Don Tonry (1956). Grossfield and Tonry are former Olympians.
Romagnoli edged out runner-up Oleg Kosyak of Cal, who totaled 58.075 in the six-event all-around.
Romagnoli and teammate Kyle Zak also qualified for Saturday's individual event finals. Romagnoli advanced from Thursday's individual preliminaries in the floor exercise, pommel horse, vault, parallel bars and high bars. Zak, a junior who advanced in the floor, qualified for individual finals for the first time ever.