By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Parker Raque and Felix Aronovich came to Penn State in the fall of 2009, the two freshmen gymnasts realized that while they came from different backgrounds, they both shared the drive to reach their fullest potential.
Four years later, Raque, who grew up in Louisville, Ky., and Aronovich, who hails from Kiryat Bialik, Israel, have solidified themselves as the backbone of a strong senior class that has led the Nittany Lions to their first undefeated regular season since 2003.
"When we recruited them we knew they had talent and we hoped that they would develop the way that they have,' said head coach Randy Jepson. "I'm pleased that they've enjoyed their time here and that they did develop just like we hoped."
Raque, who's earned All-American honors on both the floor exercise and vault in his career, was voted team captain by his teammates while Aronovich, who earned All-American nods as a junior in both the all-around and the parallel bars, represented his home country of Israel in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Although neither of them could have predicted the success that they have enjoyed, both felt as though they had the talent and potential to reach the levels that they have.
"When I came here I knew I had to be more refined but I knew I had potential," said Raque. "I made a lot of progress my freshman year and that led to being an All-American as a sophomore."
For Aronovich, success at an American university had been something he thought he could achieve, though he admitted the goal of being an Olympian was not something he ever thought was possible until it actually happened.
"I definitely never thought I'd ever reach [the Olympic] level," said Aronovich. "It kind of surprised me, but it's something that I've accepted and I'm glad to have done it."
His teammates are eager to compete with him as well, as being in the gym with an Olympic athlete gives them constant motivation to improve themselves.
Even after being teammates with him for four years, Raque admitted that he still gets thrilled just watching Aronovich compete.
"He's just an incredible performer," said Raque. "No matter how difficult the routine is you can count on him to go out there and get it done."
The thrill of watching Aronovich perform still exists for not only the Olympian's teammates, but his coaching staff as well.
After watching him grow from a raw, talented gymnast, to one of the team's best all around athletes, Jepson stated that the unique thing about Aronovich is the way he is able to make his routines look effortless while still exhibiting an incredibly strong work ethic.
"He's a very artistic gymnast who moves very fluidly and does beautiful gymnastics," said Jepson. "But more importantly he's an uncompromising hard worker who understands how to maximize his strengths."
Something that has helped Aronovich over the course of his career is having the opportunity to work with a gymnast that exhibits the determination and leadership qualities that Raque does.
Since Aronovich routinely competes in the all-around competition, having another multi-skilled gymnast who can push him both as a competitor and a leader has really impacted his career.
"Having a guy like Parker who is always one of the last guys in the gym with me is really important," said Aronovich. "He helps me get through all six of my events and it's really helpful."
Raque was named team captain in the offseason after his teammates selected him for the honor, but that does not mean that his coach wasn't fully behind the decision.
"Parker is very steady and very organized," said Jepson. "He's been a great example of how having a great work ethic translates to great results."
At this point in the season, both Raque and Aronovich are having difficulty accepting that the journey they began four years ago will soon be at an end.
Despite the nostalgia, they are not ready to stop working, as they know anything less than a national championship will be a disappointment.
"I told the team at the beginning of the year, all that matters is that we can win at the end of the season," said Raque. "That goal has not changed and we're striving for it every day."
No matter how this season does end for the Nittany Lions, it is obvious they will miss having the pair of Raque and Aronovich around in the future.
"They've really set the bar high both athletically and academically," said Jepson. "They've both done a great job with how they've conducted themselves, but they're not done yet."