Buckeyes ranked No. 18 in national preseason poll

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Returning from winter break on Monday, the No. 18 Ohio State women’s gymnastics team is faced with the challenge of being “meet ready” for its season opener just four days later as the Buckeyes face No. 16 Missouri at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday in Columbia, Mo.

Ohio State enters the year with a versatile squad with nine letterwinners returning from the 2009 team that hit four Top 10 program scores, including All-American on floor Rebecca Best and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Taylor Jones.

Ohio State, which earned a No. 18 ranking in the national preseason poll in November, was voted fourth in the Big Ten by the conference coaches in an inaugural preseason poll, the league announced in December.

Penn State was selected as the early favorite to claim the 2010 Big Ten Championship while Illinois was tabbed second and Michigan third. Trailing Ohio State are Michigan State, Minnesota and Iowa in fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. The Scarlet and Gray finished fifth at league championships a year ago.

As voted by the Big Ten coaches, the Buckeye Gymnasts to Watch are Rebecca Best and Hillary Dow. Best, who was named a second-team All-American after finishing sixth on the floor exercise at the 2009 NCAA Championships, and Dow, the team’s two-time captain, will look for a higher finish at the 2010 Big Ten Championships as Ohio State hosts the event in St. John Arena.

Missouri, under the leadership of 11th-year head coach Rob Drass, returns in 2010 with seven letterwinners and one All-American after posting a 196.005 regional qualifying score and ranking 13th in the nation a season ago. The Tigers, who were 20-6 overall in 2009, finished third in the Big 12 with a 1-2 conference ledger.

Ohio State leads the all-time series vs. Missouri, 5-2, with the two losses coming in the 2008 and ’09 seasons.

A year ago the two squads met in a quad-meet in Columbus where the Buckeyes fell to the Tigers, 195.375-193.825 Jan. 31 in St. John Arena.

Senior Hillary Dow was named captain of the 2010 squad, head coach Carey Fagan announced Nov. 3. Dow becomes the first solo-captain under Fagan after serving as a co-captain as a junior.

“Hillary is a natural leader and understands the values and expectation of our program,” Fagan, who enters her sixth season at the helm of the Buckeyes this year, said. “She leads by example in her work ethic and in her attitude.

“Hillary was selected by her peers to be the captain of the 2010 season and this decision was well-supported by the coaching staff. Her ability to look beyond herself for the good of the team is remarkable and we feel very lucky to have her leading the way again this season.”

Dow, a native of Yorktown, Va., finished the 2009 season as one of the Buckeyes’ top all-arounders and floor performers. The emotional leader of the team, Dow helped lead the Buckeyes at final Top 15 ranking in the nation – a feat unmatched by Ohio State squads in over a decade.

After missing half of her freshman season to injury in 2007, Dow returned to make an immediate impact and was a key reason for Ohio State’s growing success in 2008.

The Scarlet and Gray are thrilled to bring the 2010 Big Ten Conference Championships to St. John Arena for the first time since the 2001-02 season. Head coach Carey Fagan is thrilled to host the league meet March 27 after hosting the NCAA regional championships last year.

“The regional championship was a great dress rehearsal for hosting the 2010 Big Ten Championships in Columbus,” Fagan said. “The conference championships are a big deal so I think it will attract even more attention than the regional championship did a season ago so the atmosphere will be electric.”

Ohio State continues to climb up the rankings under the leadership of head coach Carey Fagan. In just her sixth season at the helm, Fagan has produced two All-Americans and led the Buckeyes to four-consecutive appearances at the NCAA regional championships.

With Fagan as an assistant coach in 2003-04, the Buckeyes finished with an average team score that ranked No. 42 in the nation. In 2004-05, her first season as head coach, that ranking rose to No. 38, then the Buckeyes upped their position to No. 27 and qualified for the NCAA regional championships in 2006. Fagan earned her first Big Ten Coach of the Year award in 2007 and led the Buckeyes into the Top 20 at No. 19 before tying for 18th in 2008.

The 2009 squad continued the growing trend, posting four team totals that ranked in the Top 10 all-time Ohio State scores, including the fourth-best mark. Rebecca Best became the sixth Buckeye All-American and Taylor Jones was named Big Ten Rookie of the Year, the second in OSU history.

With a 195.735 regional qualifying score, the Buckeyes finished ranked in the nation’s Top 15 – a feat unmatched by an Ohio State squad in over a decade. For her team’s success, Fagan was recognized as the 2009 Central Region Coach of the Year, her first career regional coaching laurel.

The 2009-10 season marks Fagan’s eighth overall in Columbus – the first two as an assistant coach and now six as head coach.

Ohio State head coach Carey Fagan announced the addition of three standout Level 10 gymnasts to the 2011 Buckeye squad Nov. 17. Melanie Shaffer of Pleasant Hills, Pa., Victoria Aepli of Dublin, Ohio, and Alexandra DeLuca of Longwood, Fla., will join Ohio State in the fall of 2010.

Shaffer comes to Ohio State after being one of the most highly recruited Division I gymnasts in the country for the 2011 class. Shaffer advanced to Level 10 status early in her athletic career at just 14-years old. Last April, she scored a 35.925 in the all-around to take 12th in the senior division at the Region 7 Level 10 Championships behind a fifth-place finish on vault (9.500) and sixth on floor (9.350).

Ohio born Aepli finished eighth in the Senior B division at the 2009 Junior Olympic National Championships with a 37.375 in the all-around behind a fourth-place finish on bars (9.350) and fifth on beam (9.450). In 2009, Aepli was the all around and uneven bar champion at the Region 5 Level 10 Championships scoring a 37.600 and 9.550, respectively.

DeLuca comes to Ohio State with an all-around personal-best score of 37.050 as a Level 10 gymnast. A student at Lake Mary High School with at 4.25 GPA, she finished third at the 2009 Junior Olympic National Invitational Tournament with a 36.150. DeLuca, is a five-time Level 10 Regional qualifier. In 2008, she was the Level 10 Regional floor champion

Ohio State will host its season home opener vs. Oregon State at 4 p.m. Jan. 16 in St. John Arena before facing a challenging five-meet road stand which includes stops at Pittsburgh (Jan. 22), Michigan State (Jan. 30), Iowa (Feb. 6), West Virginia (Feb. 13) and Kentucky (Feb. 19).