(WCIA) — Illinois men’s gymnastics’ incoming freshman class knew there was something special about the program that first time head coach Daniel Ribeiro was creating.

“I really loved the culture more than any other school that I visited,” freshman Dylan Shepard said. “They just want everyone to be better.”

Bringing in six of the top ranked recruits in the nation to Illinois, several even competing for the Junior National team before even arriving on campus, Ribeiro says the environment at Illinois drew them in.

“The culture here on the team is unbelievable. I have an incredible group of guys that have fully bought in to what we’re doing here and that’s something special that not every school has and I think all the guys that came in they saw that, when they came in here,” Ribeiro said. “They felt that connection and a lot of time the decision comes down to your heart. It comes down to where you feel at home.”

“I think when we all committed we saw the talent and we saw the potential, but it wasn’t there yet and as the season went on, we got really consistent and we had top three finish at NCAAs,” Shepard said. “It really gave me almost a boost of confidence coming in knowing what type of team I was going to be walking into.”

The potential the commits saw in the team came to light. Illinois was projected to finish last in the Big Ten preseason polls last year. Instead, they finished third in the nation in the NCAA Championships. Now Ribeiro is hoping to fill in gaps graduated seniors left with the highly ranked freshman with the mentality to finish first overall this year.

“We have extremely large personalities coming in as freshman as some of the top talent in the country, but with that leadership from the upperclassmen, they’re going to join and assimilate to what we believe in, our culture, our values, I think very quickly,” Ribeiro said.

“We have so much talent, so it’s just about making sure they’re bought in to our process and are ready to be Illini and what that’s all about,” senior Connor McCool said. “That’s our main focus because we know they’re good at gymnastics, but can they actually mesh with us and buy into our program.”

Ribeiro says that third place finish sparked even more interest in the program for the next recruiting class.