March 22, 2006
The 2006 Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships will feature six Big Ten teams, all of whom are ranked in the top 10 nationally this season. Ohio State, who currently holds the No. 3 spot, will lead the conference contingent into the championships and be looking to defend its 2005 team title. The Fighting Illini currently rank fourth nationally just behind the Buckeyes, and will try to nab their 24th Big Ten Team Championship. Penn State, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota take over the sixth-through-ninth places and all have season averages within eight points of leader Ohio State. The 2006 Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships will be hosted by the University of Iowa for the 10th time in conference history. Team and all-around competition is set for Friday, March 24 and individual champions will be crowned Saturday, March 25 at the Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa's Michael Reavis not only leads Big Ten gymnasts on the floor exercise, but is ranked number one in the event nationally. With an average score of 9.567 on the season, Reavis set an Iowa school record (9.700) at last year's Big Ten Championships en route to gold in the event. The defending conference champion will not have an easy road to repeat, with Luke Bottke of Michigan, Ohio State's Eddie Hay, Penn State's Santiago Lopez and Jimmy Wickham, Justin Spring and Wesley Haagensen of Illinois all ranked in the top 10 in the country this season. Spring, a senior, finished second to Reavis last year at the Big Ten Championships and is a finalist for this year's Nissen-Emery Award, given to the nation's most outstanding gymnast.
Penn State leads the way on the pommel horse, with two Nittany Lions holding top-three scores. Casey Sandy and Derek Helsby are the only Big Ten gymnasts to average better than a 9.0 in the event this season, and are two of only four in the country. Iowa's Curtis Kleffman, ranked fifth, is just shy of the mark with an 8.697 average. Defending Big Ten Champion and event specialist Ted Brown of Illinois will also be fighting for gold in his final Big Ten meet and attempt to be the fifth Illini gold medalist in the event in the event after Ted Brown and Ben Newman shared the title last year. The field for the horse is the deepest in the country, with six of the top 10 national scorers and seven of the top fifteen coming from the Big Ten.
Ranking third and seventh in the country, respectively, Tommy Ramos and Matt Cohen of Penn State lead the way towards gold in the still rings competition. With reigning Big Ten Champion Randy Monahan's graduation, the Nittany Lions will be trying to take home their fifth gold in the event in the past six years. Challenging them for places on the podium are Jacques Bouchard of Iowa and Tyler Yamauchi of Illinois who both rank in the top-15 nationally and average scores of over 9.200 on the season. High scores abound on the rings this season with a total of 11 gymnasts representing five Big Ten schools averaging better than 9.0.
Michael Reavis who stars for the Hawkeye on the vault, and will begin his run to defend his NCAA Championship in the event by taking home his first Big Ten gold medal. Reavis ranks fourth nationally on the vault with a score of 9.283, but currently sits behind two fellow Big Ten representatives. Jimmy Wickham of Ohio State leads a strong field of Big Ten competitors in the national rankings at number one entering the weekend. Michigan's Andrew DiGiore is close by at third in the nation, followed by Reavis and his teammate, Geoff Reins. Haagensen of Illinois is tied with Reins with an average score of 9.267 on the season, and Penn State's Chad Buczek rounds out the Big Ten representatives in the top ten with a ranking of seventh.
Illinois' Spring, defending NCAA Champion and current No. 1-ranked gymnast in the country on the parallel bars, enters the Big Ten Championships as a favorite, but will not have an easy time bringing home gold. Four gymnasts in the competition rank in the top five in the NCAA on the year, including Minnesota's Jake Lee, Spring's teammate Adam Pummer and Penn State's Tommy Ramos. With a high score on the year of 9.800, Spring will be tough to beat if his consistent performances throughout the season carry over into the championships season. Lee will need to put up his best numbers of the year in the Big Ten Championships to be successful against Spring, but having already scored two 9.500 marks on the apparatus shows he is capable of pulling off the upset and taking the top podium spot.
Another strong and competitive field is presented on the high bar apparatus, another event in which Spring holds an NCAA Championship. The 2004 National Champion was knocked off the top of the national platform by Ohio State's Ronald Ferris last year after falling to Ferris twice at the Big Ten Championships. Spring will be looking for his first conference crown, but will have to put up one of his best scores of the season to get it. His average score in the event is a 9.125, which is good enough for a No. 13 ranking, but six Big Ten gymnasts sit above him and are poised for podium positions. Willie Ito of Ohio State averages a solid 9.550, while Joe Catrambone of Michigan, Pummer and Ross Bradley of Illinois, Buckeye David Ortiz and Reavis of Iowa all fall in the national top 10.
With the graduation of Penn State's two-time NCAA Champion Luis Vargas, the all-around competition is wide open for a new star this year. No. 2 Reavis, propelled by his top ranking on the floor exercise, is averaging a total score of 53.467 and leads the way into the postseason, but is followed closely by Minnesota's Lee. At least one athlete from five of the six Big Ten schools is represented in the national top 10 with Penn State's Helsby , Cohen and Shaun Anotonio, Illinois' Haagensen and Michigan's Gerry Signorelli all falling within 1.2 points of each other's regular season averages.