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Preseason No. 3-ranked Buckeyes take the floor at 8 p.m. EST in Chicago

COLUMBUS, Ohio The Ohio State men’s gymnastics team, ranked third in the College Gymnastics Association’s preseason coaches’ poll, kicks off the 2009 season at the 39th-annual Windy City Invitational. The meet is slated for 8 p.m. EST Jan. 17 in the Physical and Education Building on the campus of UIC in Chicago.

It marks Ohio State’s first meeting against Big Ten Conference members and preseason ranked No. 4 Illinois, No. 6 Michigan, No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Iowa, as well as host and 12th-ranked UIC.

“Obviously, with the potential this team has to be successful this season, I expect this Ohio State team to do well at the Windy City Invite this year,” Miles Avery, Ohio State head coach, said. “My expectations are definitely heighten this year because of the team’s opportunity to really focus on its gymnastics and compete well against the nation’s best.”

THIRTY YEARS IN THE WINDY CITY
For 30-consecutive seasons, Ohio State has opened its schedule at the Windy City Invitational in Chicago. A year ago, the Scarlet and Gray placed fourth with a score of 341.2, trailing 2008 preseason favorite Stanford (354.45), Illinois (347.35) and Michigan (344.45). All three teams would go on earn Top 6 finishes at the NCAA team championships in April, including a runner-up finish for the Cardinal.

Minnesota finished fifth at the 2008 edition of the invite just behind Ohio State with a 340.35 while UIC took sixth (332.05) and Iowa seventh (331.75). 

In all, the Buckeyes have captured the invite’s title on 10 occasions. Most recently, Ohio State won in 2006 and had back-to-back wins in 2003 and 2004. OSU also secured victories in 1985, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2000.

FAST FORWARD: PREVIEWING THE WINDY CITY
The 39th-annual Windy City Invitational will host six of the nation’s ranked men’s gymnastics program, five of which hold Top 10 preseason rankings.

NO. 4 ILLINOIS
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 squad 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.

NO. 6 MICHIGAN
For its second-consecutive season, Michigan enters the year ranked sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Wolverines return three All-Americans in David Chan, Phil Goldberg and Thomas Kelly, the 2008 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. At the helm of Michigan gymnastics is 13-year head coach Kurt Golder.

The Wolverines placed fourth at the Big Ten Championships and sixth at the NCAA Championships in 2008. This season, Michigan will host the conference championships April 3-4 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

NO. 8 MINNESOTA
The 2009 Golden Gophers return 10 letterwinners, including senior Kit Beikmann, 2008 Big Ten pommel horse runner-up, junior Cole Storer, two-time All-American, and junior Andre Berry, 2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

After finishing fifth and eighth at the Big Ten and NCAA championships, respectively, last season, Mike Burns, fifth-year Minnesota head coach, and the 2009 Golden Gophers look to improve in their position in the final standings. The squad hopes to use its home floor to its advantage as it hosts the 2009 NCAA Championships April 16-18.

NO. 9 IOWA
The Hawkeyes, who placed sixth at the Big Ten championships a season ago, begin the 2009 season at No. 9 on the preseason coaches’ poll. Head coach Tom Dunn returns eight letterwinners from his 2008 squad that finished 1-12 overall.

All-American Geoff Reins, as well as co-captains Diego Mercado-Austin and Jonathan Buese, will look to improve the Hawkeyes’ ledger this year.

NO. 12 UIC
The Flames begin their 35th season under “CJ” Johnson in 2009. UIC ended last year with a 16-11 overall record, including a third-place finish at the Eastern College Athletic Conference championships. The team welcomes six newcomers into the mix while returning 10.

FOLLOW THE LEADER
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 open the season on the road at the Windy City Invitational this weekend before heading to Champaign, Ill., Jan. 24 for an 8 p.m. meet at No. 4 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
The Buckeyes again return to the state of Illinois for a dual meet against the Illini Jan. 24 in Champaign, Ill. The two Big Ten rivals square off at 8 p.m. EST in Huff Hall with Illinois.