By Laura Finley, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Alex Stine remembers her first time competing in Rec Hall for the Penn State women's gymnastics team.
So do Natalie Ettl, Whitney Bencsko and Daryl Konsevick.
They remember the
emotion they felt landing the first routine, the contagious energy of the crowd
and the fervent support of their teammates.
For the four seniors on the Penn State women's gymnastics team, their careers at Rec Hall may be coming to an end Saturday night, but the memories made and lessons learned will never be forgotten.
"The journey has been fun," said Bencsko. "There's so many ups and downs with this sport that you're never going to be perfect, so how you deal with it and how you move forward really portrays your character."
And each senior has displayed incredible character as she has navigated her way through college, balancing academics and gymnastics.
To say they have had their fair share of adversity would be an understatement. It was with each other's support that the group persevered, overcoming injuries, personal obstacles and coaching changes all the while competing to their fullest abilities.
"I think everything has brought us closer," said Ettl. "Having to go through adversity like that, we've become a close-knit class. I think having four great leaders in one class has been a tremendous help to the entire team."
This strong leadership has allowed the women's gymnastics team to perform well this season. Now 13-3, the team heads into its last meet of the regular season this Saturday night in Rec Hall and hopes to find success in the Big Ten tournament.
It will be bittersweet for the seniors as they look back on their careers and celebrate the future to come.
"I'm excited to see all of the alumni coming back," said Konsevick. "My whole family is going to be there. It's definitely going to be a lot of emotions and I'm just really excited for another experience in Rec Hall."
Looking back on their careers, the seniors acknowledge the progress they have made over the years. Whether it is Konsevick's mishaps at her first meet, or Stine's tears as she landed her bars routine, each young woman has made enormous strides both as an athlete and as a person.
"The four years fly by, but you learn so much about yourself," said Bencsko. "You learn who you are and what you're about. I've grown so much as a person in my time here."
In only their first season at Penn State, the seniors all made their first NCAA tournament appearance with the team, as they finished fifth in the championship team preliminaries. It was an appearance none of them will forget.
"My biggest accomplishment was definitely qualifying to nationals as a team my freshman year," said Ettl. "It's something that I never would have dreamed would come true. Just being able to be a part of this team for four years has been amazing."
Since that first tournament appearance, the seniors have collectively won two Big Ten titles, one NACGC First Team All-American title and four Academic All-Big Ten awards. To say each effort was merely an individual honor would be wrong, as the seniors are quick to point out the importance of team.
Even as coaches and fellow teammates have come and gone, the seniors remain close in their bond, anticipating the emotions that will be felt during this last home meet.
"I've built so many relationships through my time at Penn State with the girls on the team," said Stine. "I grew up knowing that I wanted to compete for Penn State gymnastics and the first time I competed, I started crying. This last time at Rec Hall, the same thing will probably happen. It's been an unforgettable journey."