Men's Gymnastics Travels to Army for 2006 Season Opener
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; January 6, 2006 - The Penn State men's gymnastics team, ranked No. 5 in the nation, will begin its 75th year of competition on Sat., Jan. 7 when it travels to West Point, N.Y. to battle Army in a dual meet scheduled for 1:00 ET. The meeting between the teams marks the five consecutive year that the Nittany Lions have opened the season against the Black Knights, either in dual meet or invitational competition.
The Penn State-Army rivalry is storied, dating back to 1932, the Lions' second year of collegiate competition. Penn State holds a 39-18-1 all-time series record versus Army, including two victories garnered early last season. The Nittany Lions last defeated by the Black Knights in 1962, a 54-42 decision.
While seven experienced gymnasts with national championship credentials have departed the Penn State program since its 2005 fourth-place NCAA Championship finish, 2006 should definitely not be characterized as a rebuilding year. While only one senior dots the 2006 roster, he has been a major contributor throughout his career and is primed to assume a leadership role this season. Two juniors who have seen significant action are also back, in addition to a returning cadre of sophomores with star potential. Plus, head coach Randy Jepson reloaded with a group of blue-chip recruits who have the skill, strength, and poise to contribute immediately.
"We are young but talented. The key for us is to stay healthy. If we can do that and make gains throughout the season, we can hopefully make a run at the end," said Jepson.
Gone from the Penn State line-up is two-time NCAA all-around champion and 2004 Olympian Luis Vargas. While his departure creates a sizeable void, senior captain Chad Buczek (Bridgewater, Mass.), a former All-Big Ten performer, is prepared to step in and help fill it, both inside and outside the gym.
According to Jepson, "Chad's leadership is key this season. He must bring the younger guys along, help the team gel, and work to create a sense of family."
Juniors Matt Bowman (Houston, Texas), Matt Cohen (Cohoes, N.Y.), and redshirt junior Justin Miklos (Flemington, N.J.) also lend veteran expertise and guidance to the 2006 squad.
The sophomore class, comprised of Santiago Lopez (Cibola del Mar, Mexico), Tommy Ramos (Guaynabo, P.R.), Derek Helsby (Orlando, Fla.), Brad Spicer (Fairfax, Va.), and Vladi Klurman (North Miami Beach, Fla.), is talent laden. Lopez is Penn State's lone returning All-American, placing fourth in the vault at the 2005 NCAA Championships. Ramos is an excellent still rings, parallel bar, and high bar performer while Helsby, Spicer, and Klurman supply versatility and a high-skill level to the team.
In addition to its proven core of veterans, newcomers Casey Sandy (Brampton, Ontario), Shaun Antonio (Rio Rancho, N.M.), John Maurer (Brownsburg, Ind.), and Josh Borromeo (Littlestown, Pa.) will not just add depth but will also be relied upon for regular and significant contributions. Sandy, a skilled performer with extensive international experience, headlines the freshman class and will play a principal role in deciding the fortunes of the 2006 Penn State team. He is poised to carry on the tradition of gifted Nittany Lion all-arounders and could challenge for the national title in his first collegiate season.
Led by head coach Doug Van Everen, the ECAC and East Regional Coach of the Year in 2005, Army enters the 2006 season ranked No. 11. Army lost three team cornerstones to graduation, including Brian Lee, its top still rings specialist for four years and a 2005 All-American.
Army captain Mike Tiffany has the inside track to fill Lee's shoes with sophomore Tyler Ho also looking to make an impact. Junior Brandon Whitten, who ranks among the top returning all-arounders in the East, will be a key contributor as well.
Army's deepest and strongest events will be vault and floor exercise, while parallel bars and high bar did not lose anyone. ECAC parallel bars champion Mike Oliveira returns, along with Joe Baumann and Tim Burns providing a solid base on high bar.