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Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Hello Buckeye Fans! The flight from Columbus to Minneapolis yesterday night was very smooth and easy with no delays. But getting to the hotel proved to be a difficult task for us. We were following the directions on Coach Stibel’s GPS but it led us to a building that was not our hotel. Then we tried to use the GPS on my Blackberry but that led us to another building that was not our hotel either. So we drove around punching different addresses in our GPS systems until we finally found and arrived at our hotel an hour-plus later (it’s a 15-20 minute drive).

After unloading the vans, we received our room assignments and had a quick team meeting. After the meeting we all went down to the Applebee’s that is connected to the hotel and had something to eat. Then my roommate, Sean Regan, and I went back to our room to relax and watched the movie “Rudy” until it was time to sleep.

Like Big Tens two weeks ago, we have two workout sessions in the competition gym a day. In the morning, we go to the gym to stretch out and do some visualization. Then in the afternoon we have a typical gymnastics practice where we do skills and routines and really get a feel for the new equipment. The afternoon practice went really well for us today. Everyone looked good on their events and nobody seemed to have any issues with any of their skills so that is very encouraging heading into our pre-meet workout tomorrow.

After our second practice, nine of us went to the Minnesota Twins baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays. We bought our eight dollar “cheap seats” tickets and then went to the Old Spaghetti Factory for some food before the game started. It was a blast sitting down in a ballpark that none of us have been to and just have fun at a baseball game together. We cheered and rooted hard for the Twins as if we were from Minnesota so it was a lot of fun. The game ended up going to extra innings but the Twins won in the 11th so we were pretty happy about that.

After the game, I met up with one of my closest friends who is a student-athlete at the University of Minnesota and got a small bite to eat at a local diner on campus and then came back to the hotel to relax.

We only have our afternoon practice tomorrow because of the Nissen-Emery Award Banquet. The Nissen is basically the equivalent to the Heisman in football. Jake Bateman is a finalist and is very deserving of the award in my opinion, so we are all hoping he takes it home tomorrow night.

I feel really good about this weekend. Last meet of the season, let’s do it up Bucks!

– Pej

Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Today I wore up around 9:30 a.m. to get ready for our 10 a.m. stretch out. We were not allowed to go to the competition arena to stretch out in the morning though because each time had designated workout times for today so we had to wait until 2 p.m. for our normal workout. So instead, we gathered in the fitness room in the hotel and just moved around and stretched for a bit to loosen up our bodies.

After the stretch out in the fitness room, we walked to a bagel shop down the street from the hotel for some food. They had this deal, a baker’s dozen for $6 so we all took advantage of that. After food, we came back to the hotel and relaxed. I watched two shows that I normally watch on Mondays, Heroes and 24, online because I missed them while we were flying to Minneapolis.

The day picked up when we got to the competition arena. The other teams in our practice session were the same teams we will be competing against tomorrow in the team qualifier so practice was pretty crowded and intense. Overall, practice seemed to go well for everyone. Jake Bateman gave us a little scare when he was working on the high bar. On one of his skills he peeled off the bar and landed on the hard wood floor. He banged his foot and knee pretty hard but got up and did the rest of his events and looked good so were ready to go for tomorrow.

Next, we got ready for the Nissen-Emery Banquet. As I said yesterday, the Nissen award is given to the best all-around senior gymnast and is the equivalent to the Heisman in football. Jake Bateman was a finalist for the award but the winner was Casey Sandy from Penn State. The banquet was fun. They had great videos of all the previous winners of the Nissen Award dating back to 1966 and I thought the food was pretty good.

Now we are all up in our rooms, hanging out with. We have an earlier curfew today because we have business to take care of tomorrow. The NCAA team qualifier is tomorrow and we have not qualified for the team finals since my freshman year in 2005.

There are two sessions tomorrow and the Top 3 teams in each session qualify for the team finals on Friday night. I feel very good about how were going to do tomorrow and our chances to qualify to the team finals on Friday. Everyone is pumped and ready to go. With that being said I am going to get some rest. Wish us luck tomorrow and Go Bucks!!!!

– Pej

Thursday, April 16, 2009
What a day!!!!!! Before I get to the exciting part in the evening, let me just go in order and start with the morning. The day began pretty much like every other day this week. We left for the competition arena around 10 a.m. for the morning stretch around to loosen up, do some visualizations and mentally prepare ourselves for the competition later on in the evening.

After the stretch around, I met up with my parents who had just flown in early that morning. I told them I needed to find a Subway so we spent over an hour driving around campus and the city of Minneapolis looking for a Subway and could not find one! I was in disbelief that there was not a Subway around the Minnesota campus anywhere.

I can think of four Subways in walking distance of Ohio State off the top of my head so it was so frustrating that I couldn’t find one around Minneapolis. So instead of getting my usual “5-dolla foot-long” sub on meet day, I settled for a chicken sandwich from the Applebee’s connected to the hotel.

Then I went back up to my room for my usual meet day nap for an hour or so. I woke up, ate my sandwich and got ready for the team qualifier.

As I said last night, there are six teams in each session and the Top 3 teams advance. We were the third ranked team in our session but the host team Minnesota was in our session and we knew they were going to bring it to try to bump us out of the finals. We started off extremely strong on our best two events, rings and vault, and rode that momentum throughout the competition. (Editor’s note Ohio State’s Brandon Wynn (pictured to the right), Jake Bateman and Philip Onorato combined to sweep rings 1-2-3 en route to a program-high tally of 61.35).

We came off the bye rotation with one event left, pommel horse, and were just 1.35 points ahead of Minnesota. The pommel horse guys all stayed on the horse and did an amazing job under the pressure! (Editor’s note Senior horse specialist Andy Saurber jump started the Buckeyes with a season-high 14.3 and rookies Ty Echard and Steven Spencer followed suit with a 14.7 and 15.1, respectively).

We outscored Minnesota’s parallel bars effort and held onto that third spot, putting us back into the NCAA team finals for the first time in three years!

I was so excited for the rest of the seniors. This will be their first team finals and I am extremely happy that we get to go out as a team competing for a national championship! I can’t wait for the competition tomorrow night. I remember competing in the team finals my freshman year in 2005 like it was yesterday. It was the most exciting event I have ever been a part of and I am thrilled to be able to share tomorrow night with the guys I have grown so close to over the years.

The team finals tomorrow night will also serve as the qualifying session for the individual event finals on Saturday.

After the meet, I went out to eat with my parents, sister and aunt who resides here in Minneapolis. I received a bunch of phone calls and texts from Ohio State alum letting me know how happy and proud they were to see Ohio State back in the finals. They are excited and I know we are too! With that said, I am going to call it a night and rest up. Tomorrow, we compete for a national championship!!! Go Bucks!!!!

– Pej

P.S. Happy Birthday Coach Stibel!!! (pictured to the right)

Sunday, April 19, 2009
What a jam packed last two days!! Friday was almost exactly like Thursday. We had our morning stretch around in preparation for the team finals competition later on that night. We were all extremely excited and pumped all day to finally be back in the finals, competing for a national championship! After the stretch around, I met up with my family and like the day before we spent about an hour driving around looking for a Subway. This time though I finally got my “5-dolla foot-long” which made me pretty happy.

At about 4:15 in the afternoon we left the hotel and walked over to the competition arena to begin warming up for the competition. Like the previous day, we were starting the meet on our two best events, rings and vault. The competition atmosphere was electric. The arena was packed with fans and gymnasts all fighting for that title. There is honestly no other competition that I have ever been a part of more exciting than the team finals competition.

The competition itself went pretty well for us. We didn’t do as well as we did on our first two events as we did the night before but we had our best meet of the year and finished with a season high. I am so proud of this team. We fought hard to make it back into the finals and to be able to finish with our season high was such an amazing feeling. The only disappointment for me personally was on vault. I missed my vault and missed out on qualifying for event finals the next night to try to take back my vault championship that I won in 2007. I really wanted to end my college career on Saturday night, but I am extremely grateful to be able to go out with the team in our best meet of the season.

After the meet I went to Campus Pizza to eat with my family and some of my other teammates. I knew my season and career was over so I did not hold back and put down a large three topping pizza very easily and without any guilt. It was absolutely delicious! Dinner also was enjoyable because I was with seniors Eddie Hay, Andy Saurber and Kevin Brown. We had a great time looking back on our time as Buckeye gymnasts and talking about all the great memories over the years. I remember thinking I would be sad to know it was all over, but with the career and time I have had at Ohio State, it’s hard to have anything but happy, positive feelings about the last five years.

After dinner I went back to the hotel and called it a night. I was exhausted from two days of adrenaline packed competition. On Saturday, the whole team is going to the gym in the morning again to stretch out again and then we cheer on the guys who qualified for event finals.

On Saturday morning the whole team went to the morning stretch around event though only five guys were competing later on that night. It felt good to stretch out and move around after two days of emotional draining, back-to-back competition.

After the morning stretch around I met up with my parents and we drove to the Mall of America. In case you haven’t been there, the Mall of America is massive!! It’s very difficult to make it around the whole mall in one day! We were there for around four hours and we barely made a dent in that thing. My family and I had lunch at a Mexican restaurant called the Cantina which was very delicious! Then I picked up a Brownie Batter Blizzard. I figure I might as well just go all out the first day my gymnastics career is over. After that we explored the mall some more and did some “light” shopping, we headed back to the hotel for the meet.

The competition went very well for us. We had Jake Bateman, Eddie Hay, Ty Echard, Steven Spencer and Shachar Tal competing for individual titles. Steven and Ty did an amazing job on pommel horse taking second and third place, respectively, and Jake finished an All American on rings as well. Overall, I think it was a great competition for Ohio State. We left with four All Americans and returned to the team finals competition for the first time in three years!

After the competition, the team went to a restaurant called the Garage. We had a great time eating and telling stories about the years. After dinner, we went back to the hotel and packed up to leave the hotel at 7 a.m. for our flight back to Columbus. When we got to our gate at the airport, we ran into James Laurinaitis who was on the same flight as us. We boarded the plane and had a nice, smooth flight to Columbus.

Overall, it was an amazing week. We went out and had our best two meets as a team and returned with All-Americans. It was the last meet that I and four other seniors competed in as Buckeyes and I know it was a week we will never forget. We had an amazing year and went out the way we wanted to.

I am going to miss all the training, traveling, competing and time spent with guys that I have grown so close to over the years. It’s been a week I will never forget and I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed writing about it. Thank you and Go Bucks!!!

–  Pej