Nov. 16, 2006
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State men’s gymnastics program earned the No. 3 spot in the 2007 preseason coaches’ poll released by the College Gymnastics Association (CGA) Tuesday. Two-time defending NCAA champion Oklahoma holds the No. 1 spot after receiving nine first-place votes. Stanford completes the Top 3 ranked second in the preseason poll.
The 2006-07 Buckeyes placed highest among their conference foes after securing back-to-back league titles in 2005 and 2006. All six Big Ten programs earned Top 10 preseason ranks. The remaining five teams landed the fifth through ninth spots in the rankings. No. 5 Penn State received two first-place votes and was followed by No. 6 Illinois, No. 7 Iowa, No. 8 Michigan and No. 9 Minnesota.
Returning for Ohio State are all 14 letterwinners from the 2006 Big Ten Championships squad and red-shirted freshman Kevin Brown. The seasoned squad touts the talents of 2006 All-Americans Willie Ito (Sr., Huntington Beach, Calif./South Coast Gymnastics) on high bar, DJ Bucher (Jr., Mason, Ohio/Queen City Gymnastics) on pommel horse and Jimmy Wickham (Jr., Gulfport, Miss./Planet Gymnastics) on vault. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jake Bateman (So., Kingsport, Tenn. /Premier Athletics) also rejoins the Buckeyes after a successful first season.
Ito enters his senior campaign as the Buckeyes’ high bar specialist after capturing the conference title at the Big Ten championships and notching his first All-America nod with a third-place finish on the event at the NCAA championships. As a junior, Ito finished first on high bar in four of six regular-season meets and received two Big Ten Gymnast of the Week accolades (Feb. 1, Feb. 22). The Huntington Beach, Calif., native is the top collegiate gymnast returning on the event after ending the year with a 9.51 average in the GymInfo rankings. As a freshman standout, Bucher returned in 2006 with a solid season even with a restraining injury. The then-sophomore earned the Big Ten conference crown on pommel horse and his second All-America honor on the event after becoming the first Ohio State freshman to receive three NCAA designations in 2005. Despite the injury, Bucher ranked in the Top 3 nationally on parallel bars for seven weeks.
Wickham, owner of the Ohio State vault record with a score of 9.7, looks to return from an off-season injury in 2007. After walking on the Ohio State squad as a freshman, the vault specialist earned a prominent spot in the team’s rotation. The then-sophomore finished second at the NCAA individual championships to become an All-American on vault. Also skilled on floor, Wickham is the top NCAA returner on the event. Wickham also landed an outright spot on the U.S. Men’s Senior National team at the Winter Cup Challenge after notching a 32.45 to win the U.S. National vault title. He later represented the national team on the event at the World Cup in Ghent, Belgium.
Ohio State head coach Miles Avery boasts one of the strongest all-around teams in recent Buckeye history with Bateman, Kristopher Kline (Sr., Westerville, Ohio/Hocking Valley Gymnastics) and No. 1 high school recruit Tai Lee (Fr., Orlando, Fla./Orlando Metro Gymnastics).
Through summer training, Bateman and Kline have solidified their skills on the six events to anchor Ohio State in the all-around. In his freshman campaign, Bateman scored above a 9.0 on four of five events vs. Penn State and continued to consistently score high marks on floor, rings, vault and parallel bars. Kline returns for his final collegiate season after competing nationally at the 2006 VISA Championships in August against the Top 36 U.S. senior gymnasts on floor, pommel horse, rings and vault in St. Paul, Minn. Since earning a spot on the team, Kline has been a mainstay on the Ohio State competition team competing in all regular-season meets.
Three-time U.S. Junior National rings champion Lee will look to break into NCAA gymnastics scene with the same success he had as a junior. As a member of the U.S. Junior National team (2004-06), Lee has competed internationally in Ukraine, El Salvador and Japan. The standout freshman topped his junior career with the 2006 Region VIII individual championship and Region VIII “10.0” award. The honor is awarded to the region’s outstanding high school senior in academics and gymnastics and was last received by Ohio State’s Bateman.
For the season, the first of three exhibitions unites the Ohio State men’s and women’s gymnastics teams at the Mixed Pairs Intersquad at 2 p.m. Dec. 3 in St. John Arena. Next, the men participate in the Scarlet and Gray Intrasquad exhibition which turns teammates into opponents Dec. 15 and preseason activities come to a close with the Varsity exhibition Jan. 6.