© Illinois Sports Information

Courtesy Illinois Sports Information

NORMAN, Okla. – University of Illinois redshirt senior Paul Ruggeri became the fourth Illinois gymnast to win the prestigious Nissen-Emery Award Wednesday night at the 2012 College Gymnastics Association/NCAA Championships Banquet. The award is presented annually to the nation’s top senior male gymnast and honors excellence in gymnastics along with good sportsmanship and high academic performance throughout the winner’s entire collegiate career.

Additionally, assistant coaches Daniel Ribeiro and Ivan Ivankov were named Central Region Assistant Coaches of the Year, marking the fourth straight year Illinois has won that honor.

"It’s an honor just to be considered for the award," Ruggeri said. "Many Olympians have received the Nissen-Emery, so to be considered among that elite group of gymnasts is an incredible honor to me. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be here and represent Illinois and be going down in the record books for the Illini."

Ruggeri joins David Zeddies (1989), current head coach Justin Spring (2006) and Luke Stannard (2010) as the only Illini to ever win the award, which was first given in 1966.

"The Nissen-Emery is our Heisman," Spring said. "It speaks to Paul’s athleticism and commitment to academics. Paul is known as one of the most personable and sportsmanlike athletes in college gymnastics and is one of the greatest Illinois gymnasts of all time. I know this means a lot to him."

Ruggeri is a seven-time All-American, three-time NCAA champion, five-time U.S. senior national team member and six-time Big Ten champion. After sustaining a season-ending injury last season, the Manlius, N.Y., native posted a strongcomeback in 2012, capturing a team-leading 18 titles. Ruggeri recently tookhome the Big Ten crowns on vault and floor and currently ranks third in all-time titles at Illinois with 73.

Ruggeri is a member of the USA Men’s Senior National Team. He recently won the silver medal on horizontal bar at the 2012 Cottbus Cup in Germany. He also won the bronze medal on floor exercise at the 2012 Winter Cup Challenge. He was a team bronze medalist at the 2011 Pan American Games where he also won the horizontal bar gold medal and the parallel bars silver medal. At the 2011 Visa Championships he tied for the bronze medal on horizontal bar.

The Nissen-Emery Award is named in honor of George Nissen, a three-time NCAA Champion at the University of Iowa and inventor of the trampoline, for his contributions to the sport and for Dr. Bob Emery, the 1969 recipient of theaward.

"The only Illinois gymnast to win the award before me was David Zeddies," Spring said. "We went from only one to now four, and that’s a big increase. I’m proud of Paul and Luke. They’re great athletes and great people, and I’m honored to be in a class with them."

The fourth-ranked Illini begin competition at the 2012 NCAA Championships in the evening qualifying session Thursday at 7 p.m. CT. Every session will be streamed live on NCAA.com.