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No. 3 Nittany Lions Seek Conference Title as Hosts of 2008 Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships

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April 1, 2008

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Championships Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The defending national champion and No. 3-ranked Penn State men's gymnastics team will seek the program's second conference title when it hosts the 2008 Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships from April 4-5 at the home of the Nittany Lions, historic Rec Hall. Penn State will battle the other members of the nation's elite men's gymnastics conference for team and individual titles over the course of the two-day event and strive to gain momentum as it pursues its NCAA record 13th national championship.

The team and all-around competition will take place on Fri., April 4 with the individual event finals set for Sat., April 5. Competition on both days is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET.

Penn State has competitors that will challenge for Big Ten titles in every event, led by the nation's No. 1-ranked all-arounder, Casey Sandy. In the floor exercise, Sandy owns a team season-high score of 15.850 but senior Santiago Lopez, and sophomore Nick Virbitsky, an All-American in the event in 2007, will also be factors. Sandy, senior Derek Helsby, and redshirt freshman Jason Chu gives Penn State a potent trio of pommel horse performers. The Nittany Lions' still rings line-up features four nationally ranked performers but a healthy Tommy Ramos will be the key to its fortunes in the event. Santiago Lopez, Vladi Klurman, and Casey Sandy give the Lions a triple threat in the vault. Sandy, Helsby, and sophomore Noam Shaham have had solid season on the parallel bars and high bar. Helsby and Chu will also vie for the all-around title. Overall, Penn State has seven competitors that hold 20 top 20 spots in the national rankings.

Competition at the 2008 Big Ten Championships is sure to be fierce, as all six Big Ten members are ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation. Leading the field is host and defending national champion Penn State. The third-ranked Nittany Lions have spent the entire season near or at the top of the national rankings and boast a line-up that features six All-Americans. Illinois (No. 5) and Michigan (No. 6), which handed Penn State its lone conference defeat of the season, will also contend for the league crown. Three-time defending Big Ten champion Ohio State (No. 7) has been beset with injuries in 2008 but remains dangerous. Minnesota (No. 8) and Iowa (No. 10) are young, up-and-coming teams. The meet will also showcase Nissen-Emery Award finalists DJ Bucher (Ohio State), Wes Haagensen (Illinois), and Derek Helsby (Penn State).

The Big Ten Network will broadcast the 2008 Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships live to a national television audience; the first gymnastics competition to be aired live by the BTN in its history. The championships will also be re-broadcast on Mon., April 7 (6 & 8 p.m. ET), Wed., April 8 (4 & 6 p.m. ET), Thurs., April 10 (team & all-around finals - 12 p.m. ET), and Fri., April 11 (individual event finals - 12 p.m. ET).

Fans can also follow all of the action of both days of competition at the 2008 Big Ten Men's Gymnastics on the Internet with live scoring updates. Click on the "gametrack PSU" link on the official website of Nittany Lion athleics,, to gain access.

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 three occasions (1998, 2004, and 2007) 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 with 23.

Penn State's bid for a conference title fell heartbreakingly short, as the Nittany Lions, with a score of 217.650, finished in second place by .100 behind Ohio State at the 2007 Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships in Minneapolis. Casey Sandy and Derek Helsby earned All-Big Ten honors by placing second and fourth, respectively, in the all-around. In the individual event finals, Sandy (pommel horse) and Tommy Ramos (still rings) led Penn State with second place finishes.

Penn State fared well against Big Ten opponents in the regular season, compiling a 3-1 record. The Nittany Lions topped Minnesota (354.200-343.450) at home and defeated Ohio State (360.550-353.050) and Illinois (352.300-351.000) on the road. Michigan dealt Penn State its lone conference loss of the season, a close 356.950-354.300 setback on Jan. 19 in Ann Arbor. The Lions and Iowa did not meet in the regular season.

In two weeks, the Nittany Lions will defend their 2007 national championship when they travel to Stanford, Calif. for the 2008 National Collegiate Men's Gymnastics Championships. From April 17-19, the nation's elite collegiate gymnastics competitors will descend upon Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University to vie for team and individual glory. The competition begins on Thurs., April 17 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 18. The nation's top all-around performer will also be crowned that evening. On Sat., April 19, the individual event finals will be held at 7 p.m., with six national titles and All-American status at stake.

The Big Ten Conference office recently announced its Academic All-Big Ten teams for the Winter term and six Penn State men's gymnasts were recognized for their achievements in the classroom. Seniors Derek Helsby and Santiago Lopez, junior Josh Borromeo, and sophomores Matt Greenfield, Allen Harris, and Noam Shaham earned the honor. To be eligible for Academic All-Big Ten selection, student-athletes must be letter winners in at least their second academic year and carry a cumulative grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher.

Senior Derek Helsby is a candidate for the 2008 Nissen-Emery Award

Senior Derek Helsby is one of seven finalists for the prestigious 2008 Nissen-Emery Award, as announced by the Collegiate Gymnastics Association (CGA). Bestowed in recognition of outstanding athletic achievement, academic excellence, and sportsmanship, the Nissen-Emery Award is the highest individual honor presented in collegiate gymnastics.

In addition to providing outstanding leadership in the gym and in the classroom, Helsby has had an excellent competitive senior season. The Orlando, Fla. native is currently ranked nationally in the top 20 in the pommel horse (15th), still rings (12th), parallel bars (17th), high bar (17th), and the all-around (5th). He has won five titles this season, including an all-around crown in a tri-meet with William & Mary and Navy, and has compiled 18 top three finishes.

Penn State has won five Nissen-Emery Awards, tying Oklahoma for the most by one program. In 2007, Matt Cohen became Penn State's latest honoree after a brilliant career. The 2008 recipient will be announced at the CGA Annual Awards Presentation banquet at Stanford on Wed., April 16.

Casey Sandy earned four Big Ten Gymnast of the Week honors throughout the 2008 season, firmly establishing himself as the top competitor in the nation's elite men's gymnastics conference. After each of the first two weeks of competition, Sandy was named Big Ten Men's Gymnast of the Week. Versus Army, he won titles in the floor exercise, parallel bars, and high bar en route to a win in the all-around. Against Michigan, he captured titles outright in the pommel horse (15.150) and parallel bars (15.350) while sharing the still rings crown (15.300). In victory over Ohio State, Sandy claimed titles in the high bar and all-around and placed second in the floor exercise and parallel bars. His final conference award came for his efforts against Oklahoma, a meet in which he beat out national champions Jonathan Horton and Taqiy Abdullah-Simmons for titles in four events.

Sandy has been awarded a total of six conference honors over his career. Two years ago, Sandy became the only freshman to be selected for the award twice, winning it for his standout performances in two of his first three collegiate meets.

Casey Sandy is the nation's No. 1-ranked all-arounder and a top candidate for Big Ten Gymnast of the Year

Casey Sandy has a built strong case for receiving Big Ten Gymnast of the Year recognition with a brilliant junior season. Testament to his dominance, Sandy claimed at least three titles in five of the eight meets in which he competed. In total, he captured 24 titles, including six all-around crowns, and earned 38 top three finishes during the 2008 regular season. Sandy owns the Nittany Lions' top score in four of six events plus the all-around and is currently ranked in the top eight in all six events and is the nation's No. 1 all-arounder.

Vladi Klurman became the second Nittany Lion to earn Big Ten Gymnast of the Week honors this season when he was recognized by the conference, along with Ohio State's Jake Bateman, for his standout performance in the win over Minnesota. Klurman captured two titles and established then-personal season high scores in three events against the Golden Gophers. Klurman dominated a head-to-head match-up with Minnesota's Mitchell Mays, the nation's No. 1-ranked vaulter, outscoring him 16.100-15.650 to place first in the event. The senior also claimed victory in the still rings by posting the highest score on the team at that time, a 15.350. Klurman wrapped up his standout performance by placing second in the parallel bars (14.850), tying teammates Derek Helsby and Santiago Lopez.

While Casey Sandy is the unquestioned anchor of the Penn State team, senior captain Santiago Lopez is its rock. A former All-American, Lopez is leading by example this season by putting together a standout 2008 season. One of Penn State's most reliable and consistent performers throughout the year, he is currently ranked in the top 10 in the nation in the floor exercise (No. 6) and the vault (No. 4, tie).

After missing the 2007 season due to an ineligiblity issue, redshirt freshman Jason Chu fulfilled the promise that made him an elite recruit in his first competitive season. Over the course of the 2008 regular season, the L.A. product collected a total of 21 top three finishes. In the victory over Temple on Jan. 26, competing for the first time in the floor exercise, Chu won the event and then went on to claim the all-around crown with a score of 87.600. For his effort, he was awarded the Gene Wettstone Award. Chu currently appears in the national rankings for the pommel horse (18th) and vault (16th) and will be one of the top all-arounders competing at the Big Ten Championships.

For the past two years, still rings has been one of Penn State's deepest events, affording Josh Borromeo, a rings specialist, little opportunity to gain competitive experience. But with the graduation of Nissen-Emery Award winner Matt Cohen, a spot in the line-up has opened and the junior has stepped in with solid contributions. Borromeo spent time in the national rankings throughout the 2008 season and earned second place finishes in wins over Temple, Minnesota, and William & Mary and Navy.

Penn State's success this season is a testament to its overall depth because Jepson's Nittany Lions have been doing it, for the most part, without the services of five-time All-American Tommy Ramos. One the nation's top rings, parallel bars, and high bar competitors, Ramos' season has been beset by injury and personal tragedy. Health problems in the offseason hampered his training, a trend that has continued into the regular season. Ramos appeared to be returning to form when he scored a team season high 15.700 to take the still rings title versus Ohio State and then followed it up with a win in his signature event against William & Mary and Navy. However, he suffered a concussion on the parallel bars in that same meet and missed PSU's next match-up with Cal. Ramos returned to compete in two events versus Oklahoma and is looking to be at full strength for the Big Ten Championships.

Warren Yang became the only freshman to crack a deep Penn State line-up this season when he made his collegiate debut in the road win over Illinois on Feb. 16. It didn't take long for Yang to make an impact, as he placed third in the floor exercise the following week at Ohio State. He earned a second place finish two weeks later against Cal but suffered an elbow injury that has slowed his progress.

For the second consecutive year, Penn State was selected by the conference coaches as the Big Ten favorite in their annual preseason poll. Michigan was chosen to place second, followed by Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa. Five-time All-American Tommy Ramos and national pommel horse runner-up Casey Sandy were also named to the 12-member Preseason All-Big Ten team.

During the 2008 regular season, Penn State made two appearances in the inaugural year of the Big Ten Network. On Jan. 19, the Nittany Lions fell to Michigan in Ann Arbor, 356.950-354.300. Over a month later, on Feb. 24, Penn State redeemed itself by recording its highest team score of the season in a 360.550-353.050 victory over Ohio State at St. John Arena in Columbus. Both meets were aired tape delayed. The Nittany Lions will make their first live appearance on the Big Ten Network as host of the 2008 Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships from April 4-5.

Seniors Derek Helsby and Vladi Klurman and junior Shaun Antonio along with third-year assistant coach Kevin Tan traveled to Las Vegas, Nev. to compete as individuals at the prestigious 2008 Winter Cup Challenge. Tan captured the still rings championship, giving him titles in the event in three consecutive years. The former six-time All-American and two-time NCAA rings champion dominated the competition, topping the second place-finisher by nearly a full point. Helsby also qualified for the finals in the all-around, placing 17th. His best finish came in the pommel horse, a 10th-place showing. He also placed 20th in the floor exercise, 24th in the vault, 28th in the parallel bars, 30th in the still rings, and 34th in the high bar. Klurman competed in four events in the preliminaries, with his best showing coming on the pommel horse (17th, 13.550) while Antonio did three events on day one, placing the highest on the floor exercise (28th, 13.700), but neither advanced to the finals.

Several Nittany Lions represented Penn State University and their respective countries well by giving standout performances in national and international competitions this summer.

Derek Helsby represented the United States at the 2007 World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand, winning a bronze medal in the individual pommel horse competition with a score of 14.575. In the team portion of the competition, he led the United States with top scores in the pommel horse (14.400) and the parallel bars (14.050), helping Team USA to a seventh-place finish. At the 2007 VISA Championships, Helsby placed 18th in the all-around (167.150) with his top finish coming in the pommel horse (9th, 28.550). He also placed 14th in the still rings (29.000) and 22nd in the parallel bars (28.450).

Vladi Klurman joined Helsby on the U.S. Team at the World University Games, recording the highest still rings score, a 15.100, on the squad during the team competition. He also qualified for the 2007 VISA Championships but did not compete.

Tommy Ramos represented his native Puerto Rico at the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, competing in the still rings (14.900), parallel bars (15.100), and high bar (13.575).

Casey Sandy was a member of the Canadian National Team that competed at the 2007 World Championships. He placed an impressive 25th in the world in the all-around with a score of 88.725, earnng his top scores in the vault (15.500) and the parallel bars (15.100).




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