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Feb. 28, 2007

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Columbus, Ohio – The fourth-ranked Ohio State men’s gymnastics team (5-3 overall; 1-1 Big Ten) faces stiff competition this weekend as it meets two-time defending NCAA champion Oklahoma at 8 p.m. EST Saturday at McCasland Field House in Norman, Okla. The Buckeyes look to upset the third-ranked Sooners who have not lost at home in seven years. The last time Avery’s squad defeated Oklahoma at home was Jan. 28, 2000, by .075 of a point (228.1-228.025), which marks the Sooners last home dual-meet loss.

“This weekend will be a real test for us,” Miles Avery, Ohio State head coach, said. “We look towards this meet on our calendar because it’s a meet with what we think is the best team in the country. We are really looking forward to testing ourselves against a team like Oklahoma.”

The Buckeye squad hits the middle of its difficult road schedule after dropping its first conference dual in two years at No. 2 Penn State (Feb. 24). The Buckeyes will travel to No. 7 California for their final road contest March 10 and will close the season at home vs. No. 1 Michigan (March 17) in St. John Arena.

BRIGHT LIGHTS AT PENN STATE
The co-ed dual between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions’ men’s and women’s programs was televised live in Pa. (Feb. 24) and will be replayed at 8 p.m. March 1 on CSTV. At the dual, Buckeyes Jimmy Wickham, Pejman Ebrahimi and Willie Ito combined to notch four individual event wins.

With season highs, Wickham won floor with a score of 9.6 and Ebrahimi won vault with a 9.25. Despite the individual success, the Scarlet and Gray dropped its first conference dual to No. 2-ranked Penn State, 218.15-215.6. The Nittany Lions were the last Big Ten team to beat Ohio State in a dual competition, 218.80-218.75, Feb. 21, 2004. Last season the Buckeyes were undefeated in league duals and in 2005, the squad was 3-0-1.

At the meet, DJ Bucher added a 9.45 second-place finish on high bar and Tai Lee finished second on rings with a 9.6. Freshman Justin Myers made his debut with a third-place finish on floor (9.15) to help Ohio State win the event, with a season-high 36.85. Senior Grant Osborne led the team on pommel horse with an 8.95 (t-3rd) and Wickham boosted the Buckeyes to a team win on vault with an 8.95 for third.

ITO CLAIMS THIRD-CAREER BIG TEN GYMNAST OF THE WEEK HONOR
For his performance on the road, Ito was awarded his first Big Ten Gymnast of the Week honor this season and third of his career Wednesday. At the conference dual he grabbed event wins on parallel bars (9.5) and high bar (9.55) to secure Ohio State’s third weekly conference honor this season.

Ito’s first-place finishes noted Big Ten Conference bests on both apparatuses for the week of Feb. 26. The Huntington Beach, Calif., native won the Big Ten high bar title in 2006 with a score of 9.8 and also earned All-America honors on the event after finishing third (9.687) at the NCAA individual event championships. As a junior, Ito earned the weekly conference honor on Feb. 1 and Feb. 22, 2006.

BIG TEN SQUADS LEAD THE NATION
The nation’s Top 5 squads remain the same after seven weeks of competition. Big Ten Conference members Michigan and Penn State stay at the top of the GymInfo rankings at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, while Ohio State holds strong in fourth with a three-score average of 215.55. The three-score average is an average of the three highest regular-season scores. Michigan finished fourth at the 2007 Pacific Coast Classic but holds the top spot in the rankings with an average score of 218.717 and is followed by Penn State (218.033). Oklahoma owns a 216.583 average for third while Stanford rounds out the Top 5 standings with a 213.583.

Avery’s squad ranks third in the nation on pommel horse (34.65), rings (37.5) and parallel bars (36.583). The Big Ten squads of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State continue to dominate the field on all three events as Penn State leads the pack on pommel horse and rings and Michigan holds first on parallel bars. The Scarlet and Gray also rank fourth on vault (35.05), fifth on high bar (35.633) and sixth on floor (36.383).

Upperclassmen Grant Osborne and DJ Bucher are leading the way for the Buckeye squad. Senior Osborne ranks fourth in the nation on pommel horse with a three-score average of 9.083 and junior Bucher swings into second on parallel bars with a 9.55. Bucher’s 9.55 is just .033 point less than Wolverine Andrew Elkind’s top average on the apparatus. The junior also is tied for fifth (9.5) among the NCAA’s top gymnasts on rings, a spot he shares with freshman teammate Tai Lee, a three-time junior U.S. National rings champion, and Illinois’ Tyler Yamauchi.

CONFERENCE RANKINGS ROUNDUP
League standings continue to find the Buckeyes ranked third among their conference challengers. Michigan leads the conference and Penn State follows closely behind in second. In the bottom half of the rankings are No. 4 Illinois (211.433), No. 5 Minnesota (209.467) and No. 6 Iowa (204.85).

THE RIVALRY: OHIO STATE VS. OKLAHOMA
In the last meeting, the Buckeyes finished second to Oklahoma, 215.9-216.55, at a tri-meet with California at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio (Feb. 18, 2006). In OSU’s only regular-season loss, the squad won pommel horse, vault and parallel bars and had four Buckeyes claim event wins. Eddie Hay scored a then-career-high 9.55 on floor while then-sophomores Jimmy Wickham and DJ Bucher tabbed first-place scores on vault (9.65) and parallel bars (9.55), respectively. In addition, junior co-captain Willie Ito finished the night for Ohio State first on high bar (9.6).

Avery’s squad looks to end Oklahoma’s home-dual win streak at this year’s match-up. The last time the Buckeyes beat Oklahoma at home came Jan. 28, 2000. Ohio State’s 2001 NCAA Championship win marks the most recent contest in which the squad dealt the Sooners a loss. Since the 2001 national championship win, the Buckeyes have finished second behind Oklahoma three times at the NCAA team championships (2002, `03 and `05).

A LOOK AT THE SOONERS
In his eighth season, OU head coach Mark Williams returns in 2007 after securing back-to-back NCAA title wins in 2005 and `06. It was the second time the Sooners accomplished this feat since Williams was named head coach in 2000, as Oklahoma won two-straight national titles in 2003 and `04.

In 2007, the veteran squad is led by juniors Taqiy Abdullah-Simmons and Jonathan Horton. Abdullah-Simmons returned to the Sooners as their top scorer on rings, vault and parallel bars. He finished ninth in the all-around with a 42.25 at the Pacific Coast Classic. Horton, OU’s top scorer on floor, pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and high bar, won the all-around title at the classic with a 55.95 and event wins on floor (9.8) and rings (9.85).

UP NEXT FOR OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes make a quick trip to No. 7 California to face a third Top 10 ranked team in three-consecutive weeks before wrapping up the season with the country’s No.1 team Michigan. The final home meet vs. the Wolverines is set at 5 p.m. March 17 at St. John Arena and will celebrate senior night for Ohio State’s Willie Ito, Kristopher Kline, Grant Osborne and Nicholaus Searcy.