In the inaugural women’s preseason gymnastics poll, the Big Ten 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.
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.
Russell was an all around performer at 11 meets last season and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. She finished fourth in the Big Ten in the all around and was the Big Ten runner up on bars. She was one of Minnesota’s top bars competitors last season, winning four event titles and tying with Kristin Furukawa for the team’s top season-average bars score (9.835). Her bars score counted toward the team score at every competition in 2009. Also a top floor exercise performer, Russell was Minnesota’s highest scorer on floor at six meets, winning three event titles. She is tied for No. 3 on Minnesota’s all-time top floor performers list. In all around competition, Russell ranks fourth in among Minnesota’s all-time top all arounders. In 2009, she was the all around champion at three meets.
Furukawa, the 2010 team captain, competed in three events last season: vault, bars and beam. She owned the team’s top bars score, with a career-best 9.925 vs. Iowa (3/14). Furukawa is currently tied for sixth on Minnesota’s all-time top performers list on bars. Her bars score counted toward the team score at every meet in 2009, and she was Minnesota’s top scorer on bars at six meets. Furukawa won five event titles on bars in the 2009 season and tied with Alexis Russell for the team’s best season-average score on bars (9.835).
2010 BIG TEN PRESEASON POLL
1. Penn State
4. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
2010 PRESEASON BIG TEN WOMEN’S GYMNASTS TO WATCH
Illinois: Allison Buckley, Melissa Fernandez
Iowa: Jessa Hansen, Rebecca Simbhudas
Michigan: Natalie Beilstein, Kylee Botterman
Michigan State: Nicole Curler, Kelsey Morley
Minnesota: Kristin Furukawa, Alexis Russell
Ohio State: Rebecca Best, Hillary Dow
Penn State: Whitney Bencsko, Brandi Personett