Ohio State opens season Saturday at Windy City Invitational

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The 2010 Ohio State men’s gymnastics team has only good things to build from after an exciting run at the 2009 NCAA Championships which resulted in four All-Americans, including a national runner-up on pommel horse, and the Buckeyes’ first trip back to the team finals since 2005.

Now, 13th-year head coach Miles Avery will look for his squad to utilize that experience to again peak at the right time as Ohio State plays host the 2010 Big Ten Championships April 2-3 before traveling to West Point, N.Y., for the NCAA championships April 15-17.

The Scarlet and Gray will have to replace four graduated seniors, including 2007 NCAA Vault Champion Pejman Ebrahimi and two-time All-American and captain Jake Bateman.

“Athletically, I believe we have the depth to fill the positions left open by our 2009 senior,” Avery said. “What we will have to replace is the leadership our seniors brought to this team last year.

“With four guys leaving, there are going to be positions open in the roster and everyone is training really well in the gym, working hard to improve so the incoming freshmen don’t take spots from them.”

Avery welcomes in another large freshman class with five gymnasts joining the team in 2010. John Laing, Blaize Monks, Michael Newburger, Sean Reilly and Neil Zyburt comprise a talented class that will look to make a quick impact on the team.

“Tai Lee, Brandon Wynn and Philip Onorato should all be fighting for the top spots in the all-around at any competition this season,” Avery said. “Having three guys at this level in the gym helps motivate the whole squad to be better.”

Avery and the Buckeyes will look to senior Tai Lee to have a strong return from injury a season ago to help fill the gap left by the 2009 senior class. A strong all-arounder, Lee’s college career has been plagued by nagging injuries but has turned a new page as he trained well throughout the summer, adding depth to all six events for the Buckeyes.

Coming off a tremendous summer, 2009-10 U.S. Senior National team member Brandon Wynn returns for his junior campaign after making a name for himself at the national level at the VISA championships last August. After earning All-America honors in the all-around last April, Wynn finished in 16th at the elite national event, including a sixth-place finish on rings and ninth on floor.

“Brandon knows he is on the edge of his gymnastics exploding,” Avery said. “Yes, he is one of the best on rings in the nation but he also is a good all-arounder as well. I think earning All-America honors last season really showed that he can do incredible things in the all-around.”

Philip Onorato returns in 2010 after being named Ohio State’s sixth Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a First Team All-Big Ten honoree after placing in the Top 6 in the all-around at the conference championships. At the Big Ten event finals, Onorato was the runner-up on both rings and vault, the best finish from a Buckeye at the meet.

The Buckeyes look to start each dual meet off strong as floor is expected to be a strong event for the 2010 squad. In addition to its all-arounders, Ohio State’s floor lineup will tap into the talents of junior Sean Regan, sophomore Mike Behles and freshman Blaize Monks.

The Scarlet and Gray also return veteran floor competitors in seniors Justin Myers and Shachar Tal. Avery also looks to get redshirt freshman Elliott Hardy in the mix as he does some of the tightest, cleanest passes on floor of the whole team.

One of Ohio State’s best events in 2009, pommel horse will again be anchored by sophomore All-Americans Steven Spencer and Ty Echard, who finished in second and third, respectively, at the NCAA event championships as rookies. Spencer set the Buckeye program-record with his runner-up tally of 15.475 at the national competition last April while Echard hit a personal-high 15.45 to take third.

After struggling with staying healthy in 2009, redshirt junior Michael Bell and Lee will again join the pommel horse squad in 2010 while sophomore Matt Rayl, freshman John Laing and walk-on Michael Newburger round out the Buckeye lineup. Redshirt freshman Brandt Gomez also will work for a position in the horse lineup this season.

Undoubtedly the Buckeyes’ strongest event, Avery’s team will again be one of the best squads in the nation on rings. With Wynn, who posted the highest score on the event in the nation in 2009 with a 16.1, Onorato, the Big Ten runner-up on rings, Behles, Lee, Tal and Regan all as strong possible contenders, the Buckeyes’ rings team is deep.

After Wynn’s 16.1, Onorato and Tal are tied with the second-best returning scores, each tallying a 15.35 on the event a season ago.

With strong vaults from all three of the all-arounders, the Buckeyes will look to Myers, Behles and newcomer Monks to fill out the lineup. Onorato, Wynn and Monks will all look to perform big vaults for Ohio State, all of which start at a 6.6 value.

Onorato owns the team’s highest returning score with a 16.0 followed by Myers with a 15.8 and Wynn a 15.75.

After cracking into the parallel bar lineup halfway through last season, Spencer will look to be one of Ohio State’s best performer on parallel bars in both execution and difficulty.

Back on the apparatus this season will be Tal, who returns as the top scorer for the Buckeyes after recording a 14.9 last year, Myers and Behles, who was just one of two freshmen to earn significant experience in 2009.

All three all-around will be large contributors for the Scarlet and Gray on the event.
On high bar, the Buckeyes will have to replace graduated senior Jake Bateman who led the team on the event throughout the 2009 season. Avery will look to Myers and Lee to lead the high bar team in 2010.

Onorato and Spencer return for their second season with greatly improved sets which will boost the Scarlet and Gray’s team score. 

In addition, the Ohio State coaching staff expects Monks to make an immediate impact on high bar as he brings an arsenal of skills on the event from the junior level.

As it is every season, the Big Ten Conference will again field six of the nation’s top gymnastics programs with Michigan, Illinois, Penn State and Ohio State all fighting for the conference title in April in St. John Arena.

“It is always exciting to host and hopefully it will give us that extra oomph to come away with a championship,” Avery said. “I am excited to have the Big Ten Championships on our home floor. We are going to be competing in that gym seven times before we host the championships so hopefully that comfort level of being in St. John Arena will be to our advantage.”

Looking at the NCAA championships, Stanford, the 2009 champion, and Oklahoma will again be the two teams to beat in West Point, N.Y.