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Women’s gymnastics: Ohio State looking to qualify for top Big Ten championship session with performance at Big Ten Five meet

Ohio State women’s gymnastics team stands on the floor following a meet on Feb. 18 against West Virginia at St. John Arena. Credit: Megan Russell | Lantern reporter

The Ohio State women’s gymnastics team is gearing up for the start of the championship season, beginning with the Big Ten Five meet taking place this Saturday in Champaign, Illinois,

The last two meets have been a struggle for the Buckeyes on the balance beam rotation, seeing several falls during routines from junior Alexis Mattern in the previous meet, and junior Stefanie Merkle, sophomore Kaitlyn Hofland and Mattern in the meet prior. With these falls in mind, the team is looking to approach the event with a new, lower-pressure, lower-intensity outlook as it prepares to compete in the upcoming conference meet.

“Beam is such a pressure filled event just by nature. Because it’s four inches wide, there’s not a lot of room for error,” OSU coach Carey Fagan said. “So this week we’re actually just trying to take pressure off in practice and let them do the numbers (of repetition) that they feel like they need to do.”

OSU will be competing at the University of Illinois against No. 13 Nebraska, No. 19 Illinois, Maryland and Michigan State — the four Big Ten teams OSU has not yet faced in the regular season. Nebraska is in a tie for the No. 1 spot in the conference and is 4-1. Illinois is in a tie with OSU with a 3-2 standing, while Maryland holds a 1-4 record and Michigan State is 0-5.

The Buckeyes are sitting in the middle of the pack when stacked against their Big Ten Five-Team meet competitors, but with the top three teams advancing to the premier session in the Big Ten Championships, the team is confident it will qualify for that top bracket.

“The main priority is to get into that premier session at Big Tens,” Fagan said. “I think, realistically as a team, we should be fighting for that first or second spot, and if we hit (each routine), I don’t think there’s any doubt that that will happen.”

With five teams competing in one meet, there will be a bye for each team for one rotation that follows the balance beam event. The bye for the OSU team lands in the fifth rotation after they start on floor exercise, move to vault, follow on uneven bars and finish on balance beam.

This uncommon rotation of events is a challenge for the Buckeyes because entering the final rotation, they can do nothing but sit and hope their score holds up.

“This is actually probably the worst rotation we could get, because sitting on the last rotation, the scores tend to go up on the final event,” Fagan said. “If it’s a close meet, you can get bumped out of the premier session by just a tenth of a point and just watch it happen.”

With the rotations already determined for each team, the Buckeyes can only accept what hand has been dealt to them for the upcoming competition. Balance beam falls on the last rotation before the bye for OSU, which may be a challenge given their recent shaky record on the event.

“I think that the pressure is going to be really high, and it’s probably going to be really nerve-racking, but I’m actually just really excited,” freshman Olivia Aepli said. “I’m not too worried about it. I’m feeling really confident in the gym, so I’m ready to go.”

With only three days of practice this week before the Buckeyes perform at the Big Ten Five-Team meet, mental approach and building confidence in performing solid routines are what the Buckeyes are counting on to carry them through this weekend.

Both Nebraska and Illinois hold average meet scores respectively of 196.084 and 195.788, while Maryland and Michigan State hold averages below OSU’s 195.628 mean. With the less-than-ideal rotation considered, and based off of the competing teams’ average and regional qualifying scores, the Buckeyes might be able to snag one of the three premier qualifying spots.

“We’re really just focusing on what we can control,” Fagan said, “which is hitting our routines.”

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