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Ohio State shakes off injuries, maintains high hopes

Dream big and reach far.

Despite injuries, the Ohio State women’s gymnastics team is still pursuing its goal of winning the Big Ten Championships this year and qualifying to compete at Regionals.

With 11 meets scheduled this season, only four are against conference teams. But unlike most sports, gymnastics’ open scheduling holds no weighted value on the in-conference meets.

Coach Carey Fagan said conference coaches are split on their opinion of doing a conference schedule in the future. Fagan is in favor of the conference schedule because she values the opportunity to directly compare teams within the conference on a one-on-one basis throughout the season.

“I think it’s one of the advantages of being part of a large conference,” Fagan said, “to be able to compete within your conference and build the strength of the conference among the teams within that. Perception wise, that one-time competition is not a lot of opportunity for an upset.”

While the current system only has the Buckeyes competing against four Big Ten teams during the regular season, Fagan thinks the opportunity for more one-on-one competition among the conference members benefits everyone.

“I think it’s more of a perception among the judges and your other conference opponents that winning a meet in your conference is always a big deal,” Fagan said. “Not just for your win-loss, but also for your perception of your team in terms of comparing it to the rest of the conference.”

Last year, the Buckeyes placed fifth out of seven teams. Sophomore Taylor Jones said the Big Ten usually posts some pretty tough competition, but she thinks OSU has a shot.

“Michigan is usually high, Penn State’s high, Illinois is good,” Jones said. “But there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the top three too, so we’ll see.”

With 12 girls on the team, and only six completely healthy gymnasts, Jones said it left the Buckeyes off balance at the beginning of the season.

“We had a rough start. We were up and down and what not, but I still think we have a shot,” Jones said. “We have plenty of time [and] attitudes have a changed a little bit. We’re really trying to pick each other up and motivate each other.”

Senior gymnast Hilary Dow said the team’s goals have not changed, despite the setback of injuries, but the team had to make some changes.

“I think our goals are still to win Big Ten’s and to qualify for Nationals,” Dow said. “But I guess with adjustments we’ve had to be more focused, make sure everyone’s … ready to be in the gym when they’re in the gym, to prevent further injuries.

Fagan said that the team’s showing in conference meets and the Big Ten Championship will help contribute to its overall score to qualify as one of the top 36 teams for Regionals.

As long as the team is consistent and hits its routines, Fagan said she has no doubt they’ll be in contention for Regionals.

“Our consistency has been lacking a little bit, and I think that’s in part [because of] people doing events they normally wouldn’t do [due to injuries],” Fagan said. “And I think as the season progresses and [the gymnasts] get more experience on those events, we’ll see an improved consistency and see our team score go up.”

The Big Ten Championship will be the first time that all seven conference teams will compete against each conference member.

“It’s the first opportunity where all seven teams are compared on the same floor on the same night in front of the same judges,” Fagan said. “It’s a great opportunity, a Championship meet, especially being able to host this year is going to be an advantage, we hope.”

After losing to conference opponent Michigan State by less than three points on Jan. 30, the Buckeyes look to come back Saturday against conference opponent Iowa.

While the Big Ten Championships do not play a role in directly determining who moves on to Regionals, Jones said it does help to boost individual and team scores before the 36 teams are determined.

“After Big Ten’s it kind of puts your rankings in place and if you’re [one of] the top 36 teams you go on to Regionals. And then the top two teams at Regionals go onto Nationals,” Jones said about how the post-season competition works. “So Big Ten’s is like a start to Regionals and Nationals.”

With seven meets left before the Big Ten Championships, the OSU women’s team looks to solidify its routines and work on consistency. Fagan said Big Ten’s will really give the team an opportunity to see where they stand side-by-side among everyone else within the conference.

“I think all the Big Ten teams are comparable in terms of their scoring capabilities,” Fagan said. “The bottom line is whoever hits on any given night is going to win the meet … but we have the potential.”

OSU will host the 2010 Big Ten Championships on March 27 at 2 p.m. in St. John’s Arena. NCAA Regionals follow on April 9.

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