By Laura Finley, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sharaya Musser hopes the third time is the charm. After competing at nationals as an individual for each of the past two seasons, the junior gymnast heads to Duluth, Ga., to compete this weekend in the NCAA National Championships for a third time in her career.
After qualifying for the championships during regional finals with a score of 39.450, Musser looks to continue finding success on the big stage.
"Being at nationals two times already as an individual, I will definitely know how to prepare myself and what to expect," said Musser. "Going into practice with that mentality is nice. But because I don't have a team there it's a lot different. I have a different mindset competing individually."
During the regular season, Musser performed exceptionally, winning 10 of the 12 all-around titles and being recognized as the 2012 Big Ten Gymnast of the Year. To say she will not be a threat would be a mistake. Musser has a strong focus in the gym every day and she is determined now more than ever, to place within the top three in Georgia.
"As a freshman I was just going with it," said Musser. "I didn't know what to expect. I think the difference between then and now is the confidence that I have in myself and really believing that I can accomplish the goal that I have set. This year, my goal is to make it in the top three in all-around and just to enjoy it."
Musser is already off to a good start, as she will be rotating with the No. 1 team in the country, the Florida Gators. Although her own team will not be there cheering her on, Musser and head coach Jeff Thompson are confident in the support she will receive from the Florida gymnasts.
"We feel like she has a great draw," said Coach Thompson. "She's with the number one team in the nation. The caliber of gymnastics that she'll follow is as good as or better than what she does. The fact that she's following a really good team means that if they have a really good day and she has an excellent day, then the chances are better for her making the finals on certain events."
Competing in four events, Musser has plenty to work for. It is the vault, however, that she and Coach Thompson are practicing with most. With an average score of 9.887 during the season, vault has been Musser's best and most consistent event. And it is vault that is one of Florida's best events as well.
With this in mind, the game plan going into nationals is simple: practice the little details. Musser and Coach Thompson have the process figured out, learning from past mistakes and conferring with one another on strategy.
"Last year we tried to add some difficulty, but it backfired a little bit," said Coach Thompson. "Although she was able to hit them 9 out of 10 times in the gym, under the pressure of competition the national championship stage probably wasn't the best time to try that. Knowing that, the only thing we're working to do is work on vault. She's an outstanding vaulter and there's a good chance she'll qualify for vault event titles."
Musser will begin her rotation at nationals this Friday starting at vault and ending with the floor event. If she places in the top four in any of the events, she will then go on to compete Sunday in the individual-event competition.
Coach Thompson is confident Penn State will be well represented. Working with Musser over the past two years, he knows she has all of the attributes necessary to succeed in the sport.
"The thing that sets her apart from other gymnasts is that I've never seen her have a bad day," said Coach Thompson. "Even when she's struggling in the gym, she still finds a way to laugh about it or to find the silver lining. We expect her to do extremely well."