Nov. 29, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State’s men’s and women’s gymnastics programs join together to begin preseason action with the Mixed Pairs Exhibition at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. John Arena. As a warm-up to the 2007 competitive season, members of both teams are randomly assigned to co-ed Scarlet and Gray squads. The format change from the original Mixed Pairs contests comes as a result of coaches wanting to see more gymnastics from all athletes.

Eight members from the men’s team and five members from the women’s team will compose a team of 13 athletes on both the Scarlet and Gray teams. For Team Scarlet, Jake Bateman, Kevin Brown, Tony Duong, Kristopher Kline, Mike Marino, Justin Myers, Nicholaus Searcy and Jimmy Wickham will represent the men. The women representing Team Scarlet are Maalika Moore-Thomas, Hillary Dow, Alyssa Meyer, Megan Flood and Kiki Holman. The men on the Gray team include Pejman Ebrahimi, Eddie Hay, Will Ito, Tai Lee, David Ortiz, Grant Osborne, Pedro Pineda and Andy Saurber. Team Gray’s female counterparts are Jessica Rosette, Amada Surine, Kaylan Clevinger, Brittany Livingston and Karley Walek. Three gymnasts from each team will represent their respective co-ed team on all four women’s events and all six men’s events. The top finishers will earn a point for the teams and the squad with the highest combined total will lay claim to the 2006 Mixed Pairs crown.

“The split of this year’s Mixed Pairs Exhibition will help include all athletes,” men’s gymnastics head coach Miles Avery said. “Previously, if a gymnast only competed on two events they could only participate during the exhibition period and would miss out on the competitive aspects of the meet. This format also allows both the coaching staffs to see more gymnastics from more of our gymnasts.”

“This year’s Mixed Pairs event should be an exciting one,” women’s head coach Carey Fagan said. “We have changed the format to make the event more spectator friendly and it should be fun to watch the men and women compete together in a head to head competition. It is always exciting to see the teams compete for the first time in St. John Arena each season. We will have one new freshman competing in the meet, as well as three athletes returning from injuries last season, so it will be great experience for them to get out in front of an audience and perform in St. John Arena.”

Last year the duo of former-Buckeye Brittany Brown and then-junior Willie Ito (Sr., Huntington Beach, Calif./South Coast Gymnastics) captured the honor with a combined score of 55.0 points. Returning this year for his senior campaign, Ito looks to defend his crown by helping Team Gray bring home the title. Sophomore Eddie Hay (Butler, Pa./Butler Gymnastics), who finished second with his partner then-senior Kaylin Schlecht will again look to aid his teammate Ito. The sophomore duo of Jake Bateman (Kingsport, Tenn./Premier Athletics) and Amanda Surine (Fairfield, Ohio/Cincinnati Gymnastics) tied for third at last year competition and now face each other as opponents look turn in finishes to help garner points for their individual teams.

The men’s program earned the No. 3 spot in the 2007 preseason coaches’ poll released by the College Gymnastics Association (CGA). 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 Buckeyes placed highest among their conference foes after securing back-to-back league titles in 2005 and 2006.

All 14 letterwinners from the men’s 2006 Big Ten Championships squad and red-shirted freshman Kevin Brown return this season with the challenge to defend their back-to-back conference titles. 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.

Other key Buckeye returners are senior leaders Kris Kline, Grant Osborne and Nicholaus Searcy. The depth of the junior class will continue to anchor Ohio State with the talent of Pejman Ebrahimi, Mike Marino, David Ortiz and Pedro Pineda.

The women’s team graduated three seniors, including captain Emily Sineway and All-Big Ten picks Brittany Brown and Kaylin Schlecht. The squad returns team award winners Alyssa Meyer (So., Chesterfield, Mo./GymQuarters Gymnastics) took home the Best Attitude, Coaches and Academic Achievement Awards while teammates Kaylan Clevinger (Jr., Shawnee Mission, Kan./Eagle Gymnastics) was voted Most Improved and Maalika Moore-Thomas (Jr., Tampa, Fla./Tampa Gymnastics and Dance) won the “O” chievement Award.

Senior captain Brittany Livingston (Lisle, Ill./Illinois Gymnastics Institute) returns for a final season with the Buckeyes. In all, the Buckeyes return 12 experienced gymnasts.

OSU men’s gymnastics head coach Miles Avery welcomes five freshmen to the veteran Buckeye squad. Michael Bell (Marysville, Ohio/Hocking Valley Gymnastics), Vince DePiero (Louisville, Ky./Champion Gymnastics), Tai Lee (Orlando, Fla./Orlando Metro Gymnastics), Justin Myers (Granger, Ohio/Gymnastics World) and Shachar Tal (Rehovot, Israel/Maccabi Tel Aviv) join the Buckeye squad for their first collegiate season. Headlining the freshman core are three-time U.S. Junior National rings champion Tai Lee and three-time Israeli National team member Shachar Tal. Both all-arounders look to break into NCAA gymnastics scene with the same success they had on the junior level.

Four gymnasts join the women’s team for the 2006-07 season. Beth Ann Ballard (Kingwood, Texas/Rowland/Ballard Gymnastics), Hillary Dow (Yorktown, Va./ World Class Gymnastics), Brittney McMahon (Windham, N.H./Atlantic Gymnastics Training Center) and Kristin Perchatsch (Naperville, Ill./Aerial Gymnastics) look to help advance the team to earn a chance for a spot in the NCAA championships. Freshmen Hillary Dow and Kristin Perchatsch both look to make an impact in the women’s program.

In his 10th season as head coach, Miles Avery has led the men’s program to one NCAA title, four Big Ten titles, three NCAA all-around championship titles, seven NCAA individual event champions and 17 All-Americans. During his tenure, Avery has garnered one national coach of the year honor (2001) and has earned four Big Ten Coach of the Year awards (2001, ’02, ’05,’06), most recently sharing the honor in 2006 with Tom Dunn of Iowa after leading the Scarlet and Gray to its 11th conference championship and fourth in six years. Last season, Jake Bateman became the second Big Ten Freshman of the Year under Avery and the first OSU gymnast to earn the honor since 2000.

Assisting Avery are former-Buckeye Doug Stibel in his seventh year as assistant coach and Dmitri Bilozertchev returns for a second year. Former Buckeye Randy Monahan (2002-05) returns to the Buckeye team as assistant volunteer coach for the 2006-07 season.

Head coach Carey Fagan, a 1998 Penn State graduate, is Ohio State’s youngest coach and the youngest head gymnastics coach in the Big Ten. Last season, Fagan led the Buckeyes to their first trip to NCAA regionals after a two-year hiatus. In addition, the team entered the Top 25 national poll last season for the first time since February 2004. Fagan has mentored four Buckeyes to All-Big Ten honors the last two years and returns two of them this season, including Maalika Moore-Thomas, a first-team selection last year, and Karley Walek, a second-team honoree in 2005. One of the few three-time All-Big Ten picks, OSU’s Elizabeth Meaney (2003-05), was tutored by Fagan all three of those seasons.

Fagan is joined by assistant coaches Bill Lorenz and Jay Campbell. Lorenz, a 1997 UMass graduate, has been assistant coach for Ohio State the past three seasons. Campbell joined the Buckeye coaching staff in September after coaching at Springfield (Mass.) College and the University of Rhode Island.

Following Sunday’s meet, the men and women teams participate in separate Scarlet and Gray Intrasquad Exhibition which turns teammates into opponents Dec. 15. The intrasquad exhibition marks the final warm-up for the women’s team who faces Ball State at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at St. John Arena. The men wrap up preseason activities with the Varsity Exhibition Jan. 6 and then travel to Chicago to kick off the season with the Windy City Invitational at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at the UIC Physical Education Building.