No. 5 Men's Gymnastics Hosts Big Ten Rival No. 1 Illinois on Saturday
Feb. 19, 2010
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a near-three week hiatus from competition, a well-rested No. 5-ranked Penn State men's gymnastics team will return to action on Sat., Feb. 20 when it welcomes defending Big Ten Co-Champion and No. 1 Illinois to Rec Hall. The meet, which will also feature the No. 13 Nittany Lion women's gymnastics squad taking on West Virginia, is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
The clash between traditional conference powers will be broadcast by the Big Ten Network on a tape delay basis, with the airing of the meet set for Sat., Feb. 26 at 12:00 p.m. Dan Gutowsky will provide play-by-play with Rob Brown serving as color commentator.
Thus far this season, Penn State, with injuries, whether they be serious or minor, to upperclassmen Allen Harris (Lancaster, Pa.), Warren Yang (Nepean, Ont.), Matt Albrecht (Guelph, Ont.), and Noam Shaham (Kfar Saba, Israel), has been forced to rely heavily on freshmen to not only fill out the line-up but to make significant contributions. In a win over William & Mary on Jan. 31, 24 of the 36 routines were performed by freshmen.
Highlighting the class of newcomers has been Felix Aronovich (Kiryat Bialik, Israel), Nick Grant (Butler, Pa.), Philip Harris (Lancaster, Pa.), and Mackenzie Dow (Cranford, N.J.). A two-time Big Ten Freshmen of the Week selection, Aronovich has anchored Penn State on the pommel horse, winning four titles and earning the No. 6 ranking in the nation in the event. Grant has been consistently sound in the floor exercise and vault, claiming a combined six titles. Harris, a redshirt freshman, has been hands-down the Nittany Lions' top parallel bars performer in 2010 while Dow has recorded a total of nine top-three finishes in four events. Freshmen Tony Beck (Catasauqua, Pa.), Matt Chelberg (Athens, Ohio), Parker Raque (Louisville, Ky.), and Scott Rosenthal (Clearfield, Pa.) have also been major factors for Penn State through the season's first half.
Veterans Nick Virbitsky (Harrisburg, Pa.), Matt Greenfield (Villanova, Pa.), and Miguel Pineda (Galloway, Ohio) have also been key to Penn State's fortunes. Virbitsky owns the team's top high bar score while Greenfield is the lone Nittany Lion to be nationally ranked (No. 19) in the event. Rebounding from a broken hand suffered at the end of last season, Pineda, a sophomore, has once again proved to be one collegiate gymnastics' best still rings competitors, posting top three finishes in each of PSU's five meets, including two title-wins. Penn State, which boasts a team average of 344.262, is nationally ranked in the top 11 in each event as a team. Its highest team event ranking comes in the still rings, in which it is tied with Michigan for No. 2 with a 58.162 average. Individually, eight different Nittany Lions are ranked in the top 20 in five events.
Illinois, which owns a nation's best 351.367 team average, is coming off a 350.650-342.150 victory over No. 7 Minnesota last weekend in Champaign. Junior Paul Ruggeri won titles in three events (floor exercise, vault, and high bar), setting a program record in the high bar with a score of 16.100, and the all-around. For his efforts, he was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week.
Ruggeri, a three-time NCAA champion, along with junior Daniel Ribeiro, one of the nation's top pommel horse performers, form the foundation of an Illini squad that looks to challenge for a national title in 2010. Guided by associate head coach Justin Spring, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, Illinois is ranked in the top five in the nation in all six events. In addition to Ruggeri and Ribeiro, seniors Luke Stannard, the Big Ten pommel horse champion in 2009, Chad Wiest, and Brian Liscovitz, sophomores Tyler Mizoguchi, a recently named member of the U.S. National Team, and C.J. Padera and freshman Yoshi Mori have made an impact in 2010.
Penn State holds a commanding 22-7 all-time record in regular season meets with Illinois. Last season, the Nittany Lions posted their lowest score of the season against the Illini, suffering a 345.500-339.800 setback in a dual meet in Champaign, Ill. The Nittany Lions won three of six events as a team while Casey Sandy captured all four of Penn State's individual titles, placing first in the floor exercise, still rings, vault, and parallel bars on his way to claiming his fourth all-around crown of the season. The Lions last hosted Illinois in Penn State's national championship season of 2007, coming away with a dominating 220.150-205.250 victory.
Fans can follow all of the action of the Penn State-Illinois dual on the Internet with live scoring updates from Rec Hall. Find links on the official website of Nittany Lion athletics, www.GoPSUsports.com.
The Nittany Lions will make their second Big Ten road trip of the season next weekend, traveling to Columbus, Ohio to face No. 6 Ohio State on Sat., Feb. 27 in a 4 p.m. dual meet at historic St. John Arena. A year ago, Penn State edged the Buckeyes 347.600-346.500 at Rec Hall, getting standout performances from the Canadian duo of Casey Sandy and Warren Yang (Nepean, Ont.). In its last visit to Columbus, in 2008, the Lions set a program record by posting a team score of 360.550.