Buckeyes stare down repeat title

by Susan Filkins

On Mar. 1, the No. 10 Gophers men’s gymnastics team almost accomplished the impossible. They nearly handed No. 1 Ohio State its first loss in two years but fell short losing 228.725 to 228.500.
One small factor may have been the reason for Minnesota’s mere defeat. Ohio State was minus the No. 1 ranked all-around gymnast in the nation and member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, senior Blaine Wilson.
This weekend Ohio State will return to the Sports Pavilion for the Big Ten championships, but this time, they will be in full force.
With the addition of Wilson to the Buckeyes’ lineup, Ohio State is almost a shoe-in to not only defend its title in the team championships, but also to sweep the six individual event titles.
“Ohio State should just about have a lock on it,” Gophers coach Fred Roethlisberger said. “Blaine Wilson will be the favorite on everything, except (Ohio State’s) Drew Durbin on pommel horse.”
Wilson and Durbin provide the one-two punch for the Buckeyes. They are nationally ranked No. 1 and 2 in the all-around respectively. As a team, Ohio State is ranked nationally in the top three in every individual event.
The Gophers said they are hoping the magic from their earlier meet with Ohio State will carry over this weekend. They are also looking to improve from a disappointing fourth place finish at last year’s Big Tens.
Minnesota is led by its senior co-captains Frank Ticknor and Heath Wall. Wall is the highest ranked Gopher in an individual event, where he is 11th in the still rings. He is also 27th in the high bar.
Ticknor is Minnesota’s best chance in the all-around, ranked 13th nationally. He is also 17th in the still rings, and 27th in the vault.
Junior George Beatty and sophomore Jason Krob are the Gophers’ best gymnasts in the pommel horse ranked 18th and 22nd respectively.
Roethlisberger said this season has been a frustrating one. The Gophers have been plagued with injuries and inconsistencies all season.
Two years ago, Minnesota was picked to finish fourth and ended up winning the championship. Roethlisberger said he hopes the same odds will be with them this year.
“You have to get the right scores,” Roethlisberger said. “We have to get exactly the right four scores on most events from our top scorers. I don’t see why we shouldn’t when it comes to Big Tens, we really shouldn’t be screwing up.”
The Gophers will have to do more than just contend with Ohio State to win the championship though, three other Big Ten teams are ranked above them.
The No. 3 Hawkeyes were second place finishers at Big Tens last year and fourth at the NCAAs. Minnesota lost to them earlier this season in a dual meet at Iowa 229.625 to 223.875.
Iowa is nationally ranked as a team in the top seven in all events, including No. 2 rankings in the still rings and vault. In vault they are led by junior Travis Rosen and freshman Anthony Petrocelli. In rings, senior Tyler Vogt is Iowa’s best chance for an individual title.
The Gophers faced No. 6 Penn State only once this season at the annual Windy City Invitational in Chicago. At the meet, the Lions scored nine points better than Minnesota.
Penn State as a team is ranked in the top 10 in each individual event. They are led by freshman Mike Dutka. Dutka is No. 10 in the all-around. He is also ranked fourth in the pommel horse, seventh in the parallel bars, 13th in the vault, and 15th in the high bar.
Minnesota also only faced No. 9 Illinois once this season at the Windy City Invitational. The Illini finished almost a full 12 points ahead of the Gophers.
Illinois is led by freshman Travis Romagnoli and junior Yuval Ayalon who are No. 6 and 7 in the all-around respectively. Illinois’ best event is the high bar where Romagnoli is ranked second, followed by three of his teammates, all ranked in the top 20.
The two teams ranked underneath Minnesota are No. 12 Michigan State and No. 19 Michigan. The Gophers defeated both teams earlier this season in a tri-dual meet in the Sports Pavilion.
The Wolverines are led by sophomore LaLo Haro, who is ranked 14th nationally in the all-around. Haro’s best chance for an individual event title is in the parallel bars where is ranked 18th.
Michigan State’s top all-around competitor is junior Ethan Sterk, who is ranked 20th. The Spartans top-ranked gymnast in an individual event is senior Victor Prisk, ranked third in the nation just behind Ohio State’s Wilson.
While the Gophers have their work cut out for them, Roethlisberger expects no less than a second place finish.
“I told the guys that if we’re not competitive with Penn State and Iowa for second place, in fact, if we don’t get second place, I’ll be very frustrated,” he said.