Coaches Select Penn State as Women's Gymnastics Preseason Conference Favorite

Dec. 8, 2009

In the inaugural women's preseason gymnastics poll, the conference coaches voted Penn State as the early favorite to claim the 2010 Big Ten Championship. Illinois was voted second, while Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Iowa rounded out the conference projections. Additionally, each coach selected two of their gymnasts to form a 14-member Gymnasts to Watch List.

After finishing third at last season's Big Ten Championships and appearing at the NCAA Championships, Penn State returns three All-Americans and 12 letterwinners from last year's squad, including Nittany Lion Gymnasts to Watch Whitney Bencsko and Brandi Personett, who was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Year in 2009. Penn State leads all Big Ten schools with a national rank of No. 11 in the preseason poll.

Finishing as runner-up at last season's Big Ten Championships, Illinois is coming off an historic 2009 season when the Illini advanced to their first NCAA Championships while 2010 Gymnast to Watch Melissa Fernandez became the first Illinois gymnast to advance to an NCAA event final, placing seventh on the balance beam. Allison Buckley, 2009 West Regional Champion on beam, returns to provide depth for Illinois, which is ranked No. 13 nationally entering the season.

Three-time defending conference champion Michigan ranked No. 12 nationally in the preseason. Last season, the Wolverines won their 17th Big Ten Championship and 2010 Gymnast to Watch Kylee Botterman shared the floor exercise crown and finished second in the all-around competition at the conference meet. Freshman Natalie Beilstein is one of three standout newcomers looking to make an impact for the Wolverines.

Ohio State finished fifth at last season's Big Ten Championships and is ranked No. 18 nationally in the preseason. Gymnasts to Watch Rebecca Best, who was named a second-team All-American after finishing sixth on the floor exercise at the 2009 NCAA Championships, and captain Hillary Dow aim for a higher finish at this year's Big Ten Championships with Ohio State serving as this year's host.



Michigan State is ranked No. 24 nationally and placed sixth at last year's Big Ten Championships and return second-team All-Big Ten members and 2010 Gymnasts to Watch Nicole Curler and Kelsey Morley. Curler placed seventh in the all-around competition at the NCAA Central Regional Championships and is one of four seniors leading the way for the Spartans in 2010.

Minnesota is the No. 22 nationally ranked team in the preseason and Gymnasts to Watch Kristin Furukawa and Alexis Russell, who finished fourth in the all-around at the 2009 Big Ten Championships, where Minnesota finished fourth. The lone senior on this year's squad, Russell will lead the Gophers into a promising 2010 season.

Iowa is led by 2010 Gymnasts to Watch Jessa Hansen and Rebecca Simbhudas. The Hawkeyes finished seventh at last year's Big Ten Championships, but advanced to their third NCAA North Central Regional Championships since 2005, where head coach Larissa Libby was named North Central Region Coach of the Year.


1. Penn State
2. Illinois
3. Michigan
4. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
6. Minnesota
7. Iowa