No. 6 Nittany Lions to Vie for Conference Title at Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; March 23, 2006 - Sixth-ranked Penn State will travel to Iowa City, Iowa this weekend to vie with some of the nation's powerhouse men's gymnastics programs for conference supremacy at the 2006 Big Ten Championships. The Nittany Lions will challenge rivals Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and last year's league champion, Ohio State, for the team title.
The annual meet will be held at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on the campus of the University of Iowa, marking the 11th time the Hawkeyes have played host. The team and all-around competition will take place on Fri., March 24 with the individual event finals set for Sat., March 25. Competition on both days is scheduled to begin at 8:10 p.m. ET.
The Nittany Lions will be aiming to claim their second conference title in program history. Led by head coach Randy Jepson and All-Big Ten performers Kevin Tan and Luis Vargas, the Lions attained their first team title in 2003. Penn State has finished second at the Big Ten Championships on two occasions (1998 and 2004) and placed third five times (1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, and 2002) since joining the conference in 1992. Illinois has claimed the most Big Ten Championships, 23, with its first coming in 1911.
At the 2005 Big Ten Championships, Penn State garnered a fourth-place finish, scoring 220.550 as a team. Derek Helsby (Orlando, Fla.) finished seventh in the all-around with a 53.675 and third on the pommel horse with a 9.575, becoming the only Nittany Lion to finish in the top eight in more than one event. Justin Miklos (Flemington, N.J.) placed second on the pommel horse, scoring a 9.600, for the highest finish of any Lion on the first night of the championships. In total, six Penn State performers advanced to the individual event finals. On the second evening of competition, Santiago Lopez (Cibola del Mar, Mex.) placed second on the vault to earn Penn State's best finish in the individual event finals.
Competition at the 2006 championships is sure to fierce, as all six Big Ten teams rank among the top 10 in the country. Six of the nation's ten best all-around performers will be competing, including Penn State's Derek Helsby, Matt Cohen (Agoura Hills, Calif.), and Shaun Antonio (Rio Rancho, N.M.). The event will also feature the top-ranked individual on the parallel bars (Justin Spring, Illinois), vault (Jimmy Wickham, Ohio State), and floor exercise (Michael Reavis, Iowa).
Penn State enters the Big Ten Championships coming off a loss to California in its regular season finale. The Nittany Lions posted one of their top team scores of the 2006 season but it was not enough as a peak performance by the Bears sent them to defeat by a score of 219.100-216.575.
Senior captain Chad Buczek (Bridgewater, Mass.) led Penn State, garnering the Lions' lone two first place individual finishes for the meet. Buczek scored a career-high 9.600 in the floor exercise and a season-best 9.450 on the vault to earn the titles. As a team, Penn State topped Cal in two events, the still rings and the vault. Its score of 36.950 in the vault represents its best effort of the 2006 season through seven meets.
With the end of the 2006 regular season having drawn to a conclusion and the postseason set to commence, Penn State continues to hold a prominent place in the national rankings. As a team, the Nittany Lions remain No. 1 in the nation on the pommel horse with a three score average of 34.517. They are also ranked No. 3 on the still rings (36.833) and No. 6 on the parallel bars (35.033). Individually, Tommy Ramos (Guaynabo, P.R.), who will be the favorite to take the rings title at the Big Ten Championships, is ranked fourth on the apparatus (9.650). The sophomore is also ranked fifth on the high bar (9.167). Derek Helsby in ranked No. 3 nationally on the pommel horse (9.067) and is the No. 1 competitor on the apparatus in the Big Ten. Matt Cohen (No. 9, still rings), Santiago Lopez (No. 10, floor exercise), and Chad Buczek (Tied at No. 7, vault) are also notably featured in the national rankings.
The 2006 Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships will be shown tape delayed on College Sports Television (CSTV) on Thursday, March 30 at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Penn State will spend the next week training before venturing to Norman, Okla. for the culminating event of the season, the 2006 NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championship. Hosted by the University of Oklahoma, team and individual championships will be decided from April 6-8.