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Jan. 9, 2001

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State men’s gymnastics team begins the regular season Saturday at the Windy City Invitational.

The Windy City Invitational
Ohio State will travel to Chicago to compete in the Windy City Invitational, an annual event hosted by the University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition to the Buckeyes and the No. 14 Flames, the other schools competing in the event are No. 1 Michigan, No. 6 Iowa, No. 8 Illinois, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 12 Minnesota.

Meet The Competition
The Windy City Invitational will bring together seven Top 15 teams, six of whom, including Ohio State, hail from the Big Ten. The loner, host Illinois-Chicago, is the lowest- ranked of the teams in the competiiton, claiming the No. 14 spot on the College Gymnastics Association preseason poll.

With six Big Ten teams in competition, the Windy City Invitational is often an early season indicator of which teams to for during Big Ten competition. Penn State, the fourth- ranked team in the nation, is the only Big Ten team in the top 20 that will not be present in the Windy City Invitational.

“The tournament will most likely boil down to us, Michigan and Iowa this year,” said OSU assistant coach Peter Landry. “Both of those teams generally have some very good talent.”

This will be the Buckeyes’ first test of the season and their first opportunity to see how well other schools are adapting to the new rule changes.

“We’re much better than we were before Christmas, so we’re looking optimistic,” said team captain Daren Lynch. “You get everything thrown at you at the invitational. It’s a very intense meet, there are quite a few teams there and it’s very official. It’s a big invitational, but it doesn’t really have much standing on the rest of the season. We want to do well. We’re going to have some hits and misses, but we want to come out of the meet with some positive things to look at.” The Rankings Are In
The Buckeyes are ranked second in the nation in a preseason poll released by the College Gymnastics Association. Michigan holds onto the top spot in the polls. Other Big Ten schools ranked in the Top 20 include: Penn State, fourth, Iowa, sixth, Illinois, seventh, Michigan State, 10th, and Minnesota, 12th. In addition to the Big Ten schools, the Buckeyes will face No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 14 Illinois-Chicago and No. 19 California-Santa Barbara this season.

Noting The Alumni Exhibition
Over 120 fans witnessed the Buckeye’s varsity team battle OSU alumni. The alumni team consisted of several recent OSU gymnastics stars, including two-time Olympian Blaine Wilson. The 2001 exhibition might have been somewhat less polished than in years past, due primarily to all-new standards in the world of collegiate gymnastics. The teams participated in a mock-meet, judged by alumni Jason Mazzurco and Mike Finn. The low-stress atmosphere gave the Buckeyes a final opportunity to practice their routines before starting the regular season Jan 13. Two of the more exciting new routines were still rings and parallel bars, which Avery believes might be among the strongest events for the 2001 team.

The exhibition featured its fair share of laughter, cheers and falls. Midway through the exhibition, the fans were treated to a unique halftime show by the OSU cheerleaders. The cheerleading squad performed the routine they hope will win them a national championship this year.

“This exhibition went about as well as something like this can go.” said head coach Miles Avery. “Everyone had fun, but I think the alumni might have slid by with the victory.”

The 2001 Captains
Daren Lynch, Jamie Natalie and Earnest Nelson were chosen by their teammates to lead the 2001 squad to the national championship. The tri-captain format is a first in the 122-year history of OSU men’s gymnastics.

Lynch was named to the All-America team for the second time last season after placing sixth on the vault at the NCAA Championships. He has been an academic All-American, an academic all-Big Ten selection and an OSU scholar-athlete honoree.

Natalie won two titles at the NCAA Championships last year and was named an All-American in three events. He was the alternate on the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Natalie is considered a strong contender for this years Nissen-Emory Award.

Nelson competed in four events last year, setting career highs in each. He scored a 9.775 on high bar in the quad-meet against Iowa, Minnesota and BYU last season.

The Coach
Miles Avery is entering his fourth season as the head coach of the Buckeyes. In his third season at the helm, he led OSU to a sixth place finish at the NCAA Championships and a runner-up spot in the Big Ten Tournament. Before being named head coach, Avery had been an assistant coach at OSU for nine years. In addition to coaching at the collegiate level, Avery has also been on the coaching staff for many international competitions, including the 1998 Goodwill Games, the 1996 Olympic Games and the 1994 World Championship.

Recapping the 2000 Season
The second-ranked Buckeyes finished last season on a disappointing note after finishing sixth in the NCAA championships. Head coach Miles Avery led the squad to a 18-2 overall record, with outstanding performances from juniors Jamie Natalie and Daren Lynch and freshman Raj Bhavsar pacing the team. However, the team fell just short in the Big Ten Tournament, finishing second behind The University of Michigan. Natalie, Lynch and Bhavsar each placed in the top six in their individual events during the NCAA championships, winning All-America honors.

Buckeyes Show Experience
The 2001 team will have its fair share of leaders this season, with seniors and juniors comprising more than half of the roster. Five seniors, including captains Daren Lynch and Jamie Natalie will take the floor for the Buckeyes this season.

Three juniors, led by captain Earnest Nelson, will round out the upperclass portion of the 13- man squad.

Holding Down the Homestead
January 19 will mark the first home meet of the 2001 season for the Buckeyes, when they welcome Illinois-Chicago into the friendly confines of St. John Arena. The squad will only compete twice more on their home floor before the NCAA Championship. The Buckeyes play host to Michigan State Feb. 9 in a co-ed meet. Two weeks later, on Feb. 24, the Buckeyes return to St. John Arena to do battle with Penn State and West Virginia.

Hosting Championship
The men’s gymnastics team will have the honor of hosting the 2001 NCAA Championships in historic St. John Arena. The National Qualifier will be held April 5, with the National Finals April 6-7. The 13,276-seat venue will give many Columbus residents the opportunity to see top-level NCAA men’s gymnastics.

More Buckeyes Coaching Buckeyes
Five current Buckeyes were coached by former OSU gymnasts prior to coming to Ohio State: Jamie Natalie was coached by Thad Abbott (1993) at Prestige Gymnastics in Delaware, Earnest Nelson by Jim Knopp (90-93) of Flippers in Texas, Matthew Smith by Jason Mazzurco (91-94) at USA Gymnastics World in Utah, Ben Falkner by Peter Bastien (91-94) at the Ellis School of Gymnastics in Massachusetts, Dick Huntwork by Mike Serra (1988) at Hocking Valley Gymnastics in Ohio and Jamey Houle by Todd Henry at Tim Daggetts Gold Medal Gymnastics in Enfield, Conn.

New Rules In 2001
Every four years, or quadrennium, the International Gymnastic Governing Council alters the routines and judging criteria of the sport, forcing gymnasts worldwide to learn different routines. The lack of familiarity with the new routines often leads to lower scores in the early meets of every quadrennium. OSU head coach Miles Avery predicts growing pains for every collegiate team, including the Buckeyes this season.

“It takes a little while to catch up with the new rules.” he said, “So it’s a little slow right now, but it’s a little slow for everyone in the world. Fortunately, this is a seasoned team. We’ll do well.”