Feb. 21, 2007

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Columbus, Ohio – The Ohio State men’s gymnastics team (5-2 overall; 1-0 Big Ten), ranked fourth nationally, will travel to University Park, Pa., Saturday for a dual contest against conference challenger No. 2 Penn State at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall. This meeting marks the 34th dual between the conference rivals and will allow the Buckeyes a chance to compete at the site of the 2007 NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championships.

“It’s a tremendous challenge to compete at Rec Hall because Penn State is always a tough team at home,” Miles Avery, Ohio State head coach, said. “But, it offers our guys a great opportunity to go and see where we will be competing in the NCAA championships in April.”

The trip to Penn State is the first of three road challenges for Ohio State. Heading into March, the squad visits No. 3 Oklahoma (March 3) and No. 8 California (March 10) before returning home to host No. 1 Michigan (March 17).

Buckeyes Jimmy Wickham, DJ Bucher and Willie Ito finished in the Top 3 on vault, parallel bars and high bar, respectively, at the conclusion of the 2007 Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas (Feb. 10). In all, five student-athletes from Ohio State, the most from any program, advanced to the individual event and all-around finals. For his performance on vault, Wickham was tabbed Big Ten Gymnast of the Week (Feb. 14) to give the junior Buckeye his first conference honor. Wickham, who won the U.S. National vault title in 2006, finished second on vault among the nation’s elite at the USA Gymnastics competition with a combined total of 32.55. In the preliminaries, the vault specialist grabbed second after sticking his landing for a score of 16.3 and added a 16.25 in the finals.

On parallel bars, Bucher scored a 15.3 in the event finals to give him a two-day total of 30.3. This mark landed him third place at the national event. Bucher also earned the best finish for a Buckeye on rings compiling a 29.55 for ninth place. This season, Bucher has dominated both apparatuses winning back-to-back event titles on rings and parallel bars against Illinois (Jan. 27) and Temple (Feb. 3).

Success on the national platform continued for Ohio State as Ito claimed third on high bar with a total score of 29.6 after earning a 14.7 at the event finals. The senior earned his first All-America honor on high bar at the 2006 NCAA championships with a third-place finish of 9.687.

The Big Ten continues to maintain a hold at the top of the GymInfo national rankings. After six weeks of competition, Ohio State ranks fourth in the nation with a three-score average of 213.517. The three-score average is an average of the three highest regular-season scores. The Top 2 spots are held by Michigan in first with an average score of 217.383, followed by Penn State (213.042). Oklahoma owns a 214.833 for third and Stanford is fifth with a 209.733.

The Scarlet and Gray squad holds Top 5 national event averages in four of the six events. The squad’s highest team ranking is on parallel bars (36.433), in second trailing only conference foe Michigan. On rings (36.8), the squad is third nationally. The Big Ten Conference squads hold a monopoly on rings as Penn State holds the top team average and Michigan owns the second at 37.742 and 37.633, respectively. Ohio State holds fourth on both pommel horse (34.35) and high bar (35.3). The Buckeyes are just shy of entering the Top 5 rankings on floor and vault as the team ranks sixth on both events with averages less than .3 points lower than their competition.

Individually, the Buckeyes have six gymnasts ranked in the nation’s Top 10 on five events. Senior Grant Osborne leads Ohio State on pommel horse and ranks ninth in the nation with an 8.85 three-score average. On rings, freshman Tai Lee ranks fifth in the nation with a 9.417 average and junior Pejman Ebrahimi holds 10th (9.283). Junior David Ortiz owns ninth on vault (8.9) and fourth on high bar (9.217) while senior Nicholaus Searcy holds fourth on parallel bars (9.3).

In the Big Ten, the Buckeyes rank third among their conference challengers following No. 1 Michigan and No. 2 Penn State. Rounding out the league rankings are No. 4 Illinois (208.683), No. 5 Minnesota (207.483) and No. 6 Iowa (203.283).

Last time out, the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes outscored the No. 4 Nittany Lions, 216.3-209.05, at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio (Feb. 25, 2006). In the win, the Scarlet and Gray captured five of the six events and notched the team’s season-high total. Then-sophomore Jimmy Wickham set an Ohio State individual record on vault when he scored a career and program-high 9.7. The Buckeyes hold a slight edge over the Nittany Lions in the all-time series record, 18-15. In the last decade, Ohio State owns a 6-4 record against the conference rival.

Coming off of a fourth-place team finish at the 2006 NCAA Championships, the No. 2-ranked Penn State squad has continued its success in 2007, falling only to Michigan, 216.75-215.8 (Feb. 3). Last weekend the Nittany Lions posted a season-high score of 220.15 to defeat then-No. 5 Illinois by 14.9 points. In the win, Penn State gymnasts won five of the six event titles. The team is led this season by senior captain Matt Cohen (Agoura Hills, Calif.) and junior Derek Helsby (Orlando, Fla.). Cohen finished the 2006 season ranked ninth in the all-around nationally and recorded a career-high 52.35 all-around finish (March 4).

Helsby helped the Nittany Lions qualify for the 2006 NCAA championships by finishing second in the all-around (54.0) at the qualifier. At the championships, he secured All-America honors on four events. Helsby finished the NCAA individual championships third in the all-around and on pommel horse, sixth on rings and eighth on parallel bars.

The Scarlet and Gray continue on the road for a dual meet against two-time defending NCAA champions Oklahoma at 8 p.m. EST at McCasland Field House in Norman, Okla.