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Buckeyes meet Fighting Illini in Champaign Saturday for final January meet

COLUMBUS, Ohio After a slow start to the 2009 season at the Windy City Invitational last Saturday, the seventh-ranked Ohio State men’s gymnastics team looks to have a better outing vs. conference rival Illinois at 8 p.m. EST Saturday in Champaign, Ill.

In Chicago last weekend, the Fighting Illini placed second with a 342.25 while the Buckeyes finished fourth scoring a 337.65.

“We are putting last weekend behind us because we know this team is better than what we saw in Chicago,” Miles Avery, Ohio State head coach, said. “We know Illinois is always tough to beat at home so we are concentrating on our gymnastics getting better each week so we peak at the right time.”

ALL-TIME RESULTS
Illinois leads Ohio State in the all-time dual record, 83-69-1, however, the Buckeyes have been chipping away at the margin and own an 8-3-1 dual ledger over the Illini since Miles Avery took charge in 1998.

Last January, Illinois took one from Ohio State in Columbus, winning by a score of 355.65-348.1. In the previous five dual meetings, the Scarlet and Gray were unbeaten, capturing victories in 2003, 04, 06 and 07 and earning a tie in 05.  

LAST FIVE OHIO STATE-ILLINOIS DUAL RESULTS
2008 – L, 348.1-355.65
2007 – W, 214.7-211.05
2006 – W, 213.35-206.9
2005 – T, 223.4-223.4
2004 – W, 220.2-219.0

THE FIGHTING ILLINI
Under the direction of 33-year head coach Yoshi Hayasaki, the fourth-ranked Illini return in 2009 with four All-Americans, including sophomore Paul Ruggeri, the reigning NCAA champion on high bar. The squad returns 10 letterwinners from the 2008 team that finished runner-up at the Big Ten championships and third at the NCAA championships.

Senior Chris Lung and sophomore Daniel Ribeiro will serve as captains of the 2009 team. In his freshman season, Ribeiro captured the conference pommel horse title and finished sixth at the NCAA individual finals to earn All-America honors.

WATCHING IT FROM HOME
The Ohio State-Illinois meet will be streamed online Saturday night through FightingIllini.com. Fans can access the web video on the men’s gymnastics schedule page. Standard fees apply. 

BUCKEYES IN THE RANKINGS
After one competition, Ohio State ranks seventh in the GymInfo national poll. The Scarlet and Gray posted the nation’s third best event total on vault, a 60.6, and its fourth highest score on rings (57.4).

Individually, four Buckeyes have earned Top 20 rankings. In the all-around, Ohio State captains Jake Bateman and Tai Lee come in at No. 5 (87.55) and No. 9 (84.15), respectively. Bateman, a senior from Kingsport, Tenn., recorded the third-best all-around score among Big Ten competitors last Saturday while Lee’s performance ranks fifth in the conference.

On floor, senior Eddie Hay holds the No. 3 spot with a 15.25, good for second in the Big Ten. Bateman follows at No. 5 in the country with a score of 15.0. Lee, a junior from Orlando, Fla., leads the squad on rings and is tied for fifth in the national polls with a 14.8. On vault and parallel bars, Bateman is the only Buckeye to rank in the country’s Top 20. He is tied for sixth on vault (15.6) and eighth on parallel bars (14.65).

Freshman standout Philip Onorato is tied for ninth on vault in league rankings after scoring a 15.3 in his Ohio State debut. Also earning a Top 10 Big Ten ranking is junior Shachar Tal. Tal posted the conference’s ninth-best (tie) tally on parallel bars with a 14.0.

Two-time Ohio State Most Improved Award winner Justin Myers turned in the team’s top mark on high bar with a 14.35 last Saturday to earn him the No. 6 ranking in the country and No. 2 in the Big Ten. Bateman and Lee follow, holding eighth (14.25) and 11th (tie), respectively.  

SHAKE IT OFF
The Buckeyes are looking to shake off their fourth-place finish recorded last Saturday at the 39th-annual Windy City Invitational.

With a late tweak to the lineup and a few cases of the flu affecting the squad, Ohio State scored a program low 337.65 in Chicago. Michigan was the victor at the meet with a score of 346.1, while Illinois (342.25) and Minnesota (341.4) finished second and third, respectively. Meet host UIC was fifth with a score of 327.7 and Iowa was last with a 325.9.

Highlighting the meet were the Scarlet and Gray all-arounders. Jake Bateman and Tai Lee nabbed second (87.55) and third (84.15), respectively, in the all-around. Bateman, a senior biology major, tallied an 87.55 in the all-around, scoring a first-place finish on vault with a 15.6. Lee, a junior from Orlando, Fla., tied for first on rings with a 14.8 en route to his 84.15 score in the all-around. Michigan sophomore Chris Cameron won the all-around with an 88.1.

Sophomore Justin Myers had a good night, capturing the meet’s top mark on high bar with a 14.35. Bateman placed second (14.25) and Lee added a 14.15 for fourth to help Ohio State to the second-best event tally, a 54.8, trailing only Minnesota’s 55.6. The Scarlet and Gray also did well on vault, outscoring all five teams with a meet-high 60.6. 

On floor, senior Eddie Hay posted a Buckeye-high 15.25 to place third and was followed by Bateman with a fourth-place 15.0.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS
Senior Jake Bateman and junior Tai Lee were announced captains of the 2009 Buckeyes at the Varsity Exhibition Jan. 10 as voted by their teammates.

Bateman, the 2006 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, paced the Buckeyes a season ago, earning All-America status in the all-around with a sixth-place finish at the NCAA championships. In addition, Bateman finished second in the all-around at the 2008 Big Ten Championships to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors as a junior. The Kingsport, Tenn., native becomes a two-time captain for Ohio State after taking the role on in 2008.

Studying biology at Ohio State, the polished athlete also is a leader in the classroom as a CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine Second Team Academic All-American and First Team All-District selection.

Lee, a native of Orlando, Fla., had a standout freshman season, competing at 6-of-7 regular-season meets before sustaining a shoulder injury that kept him out of the lineup for the majority of 2008. In only three meets, he helped Ohio State to a third-place finish at the 2008 Big Ten Championships and finished third in the all-around during the NCAA qualifier. Lee is majoring in consumer affairs.

CHUTES AND LADDERS
While climbing up the ranks of life, sometimes one falls prey to sidelining obstacles and Ohio State fifth-year senior Pejman Ebrahimi knows that life lesson all too well. Last January, the 2007 NCAA vault champion endured a season ending injury, tearing the ligaments in his C4 and C5 vertebras in his neck.

After eight weeks in a stabilizing neck brace, Ebrahimi began his battle back to fitness. Forgoing pizza and his ultimate clutch ice cream more often than not now, the Encino, Calif., native enters his final campaign in the best shape of his life. As the only Buckeye with competition experience in the final day of team competition at the national championship, Ebrahimi will bring mental toughness and maturity to the young 2009 squad.

EXPANDING ROSTER
Ohio State head coach Miles Avery welcomed in one of the largest freshman classes in his 12-year career in 2009. With six fresh faces in the gym, the Buckeyes now have a 19-man roster. Reigning from five different states, including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas, the 2009 class brings a new look to the team.

ROOKIE WITH CLASS
In November 2007, Avery announced the signing of Philip Onorato, the nation’s top recruit.

In his repertoire, Onorato, the 2004 and ’05 Level 10 Junior Olympic all-around champion, brings routines tested at both the national and international level.

A native of Plano, Texas, has been a star in the gymnastics world since capturing the first of two J.O. Nationals in 2004 with top finishes on rings and vault. A year later, the all-arounder repeated as the junior national champion.

Competing overseas, Onorato finished second in the all-around at both the 2005 Stella Zakharova Cup and the 2006 Pan American Championships where he took gold on rings (15.275) and silver on floor (14.425). In all, Onorato, a member of the World Olympics Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) in Plano, has collected six international, seven state and 13 national titles.
 
BUCKEYES THIRD IN CGA PRESEASON POLL
After finishing seventh in the 2008 NCAA standings, the Ohio State men’s gymnastics team jumped to third in the College Gymnastics Association’s (CGA) annual preseason coaches’ poll, the association announced Oct. 20. For the second-consecutive year, Stanford tops the poll with 10 first-place tallies after finishing second at the 2008 NCAA Championships. Reigning NCAA champion Oklahoma holds the No. 2 ranking.

Ohio State earned the highest ranking among Big Ten squads and is followed by Illinois, Penn State and Michigan in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. Last season, all three conference rivals finished in the NCAA’s Super Six, including a third-place finish by the Fighting Illini at the national championships. In the 2009 poll, all six Big Ten teams earned Top 10 preseason nods with Minnesota and Iowa ranking eighth and ninth, respectively, in the country.

THE SCHEDULE
Ohio State, which welcomes six new faces to the Buckeye program this season, has a tough schedule ahead with only two home meets in 2009.   

The Scarlet and Gray opened the season on the road at the Windy City Invitational last weekend and head to Champaign, Ill., Saturday for an 8 p.m. meet at Illinois.

The Buckeyes play host to No. 12 UIC at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 after taking a break from collegiate action to compete at USA Gymnastics’ Winter Cup Challenge Feb. 5 and 7. After one meet in Columbus, Ohio State enters a three-meet road swing as it faces the reigning Big Ten champion Penn State, seventh-ranked California and the No. 2-ranked Sooners in three-consecutive weekends starting Feb. 28. Regular-season action ends with a home contest against No. 6 Michigan at 7 p.m. March 21.   

UP NEXT
USA Gymnastics’ 2009 Winter Cup Challenge is next on Ohio State’s schedule. The two-day event held in Las Vegas will begin at either 3 or 9 p.m. EST Feb. 5, depending upon the student-athletes’ placements in the meet’s two preliminary sessions.

The Winter Cup finals are schedule for 9:30 p.m. EST Feb. 7.