No. 5 Nittany Lions to Vie for Conference Title at Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships
To be hosted by the University of Minnesota, the team and all-around competition will take place on Fri., March 30 with the individual event finals set for Sat., March 31. Competition on both days is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET and will be held at the home of Gopher gymnastics, the Sports Pavilion. Follow all of the action by visiting www.GoPSUsports.com for live results from Minneapolis.
The Nittany Lions will be aiming to claim their second conference title in program history this weekend. 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 2006 Big Ten Championships, held at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on the campus of the University of Iowa, Penn State placed fifth in the team competition. Tommy Ramos (Guaynabo, P.R.) captured the still rings title and All-Big Ten honors and Santiago Lopez (Cibola del Mar, Mex.) placed second in the vault to lead the Nittany Lions.
Penn State should be well rested and singularly focused entering the annual conference meet, as it has not competed since March 10 when it faced Stanford and Iowa in a tri-meet in Palo Alto, Calif. The Nittany Lions¡¯ scheduled regular season finale with California was cancelled due to a powerful snowstorm that hit Happy Valley on March 16, giving them three weeks to prepare and train for the Big Ten Championships.
The Nittany Lions are rated among the top six teams in the nation in all six events, highlighted by a No. 1-ranking (tie) in the pommel horse (35.467) and a No. 2 ranking in the still rings (37.608). Vault (No. 3, 35.300) and high bar (No. 4, 36.250) have also been events in which Penn State has excelled in 2007.
Individually, Penn State has competitors that will challenge for Big Ten titles in every event. In the floor exercise, junior Santiago Lopez owns a team season-high score of 9.600 but freshmen Nick Virbitsky (Harrisburg, Pa.) and Allen Harris (Lancaster, Pa.) have been consistent contributors. Penn State boasts one the nation¡¯s top pommel horse performers in sophomore Casey Sandy (Brampton, Ont.) and a 2006 All-American in the event in junior Derek Helsby (Orlando, Fla.). Junior Tommy Ramos and senior captain Matt Cohen (Agoura Hills, Calif.) have combined for seven 15 top three finishes, including seven titles, in the still rings this season. Vladi Klurman (North Miami Beach, Fla.), who was ranked No. 1 for much of the year, coupled with Santiago Lopez and Nick Virbitsky, give the Lions a triple threat on the vault. Tommy Ramos, Casey Sandy, and Derek Helsby have all had solid seasons on the parallel bars and share the team¡¯s top score for the season, a 9.350. That trio is also Penn State¡¯s leading high bar performers, with Ramos holding a No. 2 national ranking. Casey Sandy, Matt Cohen, and Derek Helsby will likely vie for the all-around title.
Competition at the 2007 championships is sure to fierce, as all six Big Ten members are ranked among the top nine teams in the nation. Leading the field is No. 1-ranked and two-time defending Big Ten champion Ohio State. Michigan spent most of the season positioned atop the rankings before recently falling to the No. 2 spot behind the Buckeyes. Minnesota (No. 6), Illinois (No. 7) and Iowa (No. 9) help comprise the nation¡¯s elite men¡¯s gymnastics conference. The meet will also showcase Nissen-Emery Award finalists Jacques Bouchard (Iowa), Matt Cohen (Penn State), Willie Ito (Ohio State), Justin Laury (Michigan), and Jake Lee (Minnesota).
Penn State fared well against Big Ten opponents in the regular season, compiling a 3-1 record. The Nittany Lions topped Ohio State (218.150-215.600) and Illinois (220.150-205.250) in home dual meets and defeated Iowa (214.800-204.750) in a tri-meet at Stanford. Michigan handed Penn State its lone conference loss of the season, a close 216.750-215.800 setback on Feb. 3 in Rec Hall. The Lions and Minnesota did not meet in the regular season in 2007.
In two weeks, the Nittany Lions will seek their NCAA-record 12th team title when they host the 2007 National Collegiate Men¡¯s Gymnastics Championships from April 12-14. The nation¡¯s elite collegiate gymnastics competitors will descend upon University Park, Pa. and historic Rec Hall to vie for team and individual glory. The competition begins on Thurs., April 12 with two qualifying sessions, scheduled for 1 and 7 p.m. The top three teams from each qualifier then advance to vie for the national championship at 7 p.m. on Fri., April 13. The nation¡¯s top all-around performer will also be crowned that evening. On Sat., April 14, the individual event finals will be held at 7 p.m., with six national titles and All-American status at stake.