By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Six Nittany Lions walked out in front of a crowded Rec Hall one last time as they competed in the fourth and final session of the 2013 NCAA Championships to close out another exciting season.
After missing a few routines Saturday night in the team finals, those who placed among the top 10 qualified for event finals on Sunday afternoon and were determined to hit their routines. They took head coach Randy Jepson's advice as he told them that two things should come out of Saturday night.
"As I gathered the guys I told them this, I said, 'You're not going to get everything you want in life and with disappointment should come two things. It should [give you] wisdom from what you learn from the experience. Number two that should come is determination about how you're going to do better and what you're going to make of it'," Jepson said.
The athletes did just that. They stuck together and supported each other to make the best out of their final opportunity to compete on the national stage in individual event finals.
Scott Rosenthal opened up the afternoon with his best performance of the year on the still rings. Years of hard work and overcoming adversity came down to one moment for the senior as he saw his last opportunity to compete as a Nittany Lion. Achieving All-American status, he stuck the landing on still rings and finished in third place with a score of 15.400.
"I was really thrilled for Scott," Jepson said. "He has a torn ligament in his shoulder. He rested for two months and didn't do anything, which is unheard of in rings because you have to maintain strength day by day. To have him come back and go three days in a row with his best routine of his short season coming on the last day is just remarkable."
Following Rosenthal was Adrian Evans on the pommel horse who stepped up and placed fifth with a score of 14.675. He earned his second straight All-American status on the apparatus.
With momentum starting to build for the Nittany Lions, Parker Raque wasn't going to slow it down. Adding to his previous All-American performances on the floor exercise and the vault, the senior added the still rings to the list by finishing sixth with a score of 15.075.
"[Today] was memorable," Raque said. "I was really glad for the opportunity and couldn't be more happy to have that one last routine to finish on. I had a personal goal to be an All-American on rings. I just went out there today and was able to achieve that goal, so I'll take that as a success."
Immediately after Raque nailed one last routine, Trevor Howard soaked in the energy from the crowd as he stepped up to compete on the floor exercise. Using the first two days of competition to get all of the nervous energy out, the freshman stuck each pass and won his first NCAA individual event title with a score of 15.800.
"When I was kneeling, I was just saying my prayers hoping to rock it out," Howard said. "When I stuck that first pass, it was a great feeling. I just carried [the momentum] on throughout the routine stick after stick."
After Howard saluted the judges, he knew he had one of the best performances of his career. But what he didn't know was that he was the first gymnast since 1963 to win a title on the floor exercise for Penn State.
"I didn't know about it until after someone told me it had been 50 years and it's crazy that it marks 50 years exactly today," Howard said. "There's no feeling like it. I can't explain it - it's just awesome."
However, Jepson was well aware of what Howard had just accomplished.
"I was three the last time we had a national champion on floor so to finally get another one was absolutely outstanding," Jepson said. "To have [Howard] come out in the NCAA final, as a freshman, on his home floor, with everything there to take; that's a lot of pressure for a freshman. I knew he had that in him and he showed it today. I'm really proud of him."
After Howard received his award and he stood on the top of the podium, his day wasn't over just yet. He finished ninth on the vault (15.025) and the parallel bars (14.175) to end an outstanding start to his collegiate career.
The excitement continued as senior Felix Aronovich received All-American status on the high bar as he finished in fifth place with a score of 14.725. The final competitor for the afternoon for Penn State was sophomore Matthew Felleman who earned his first career All-American status finishing in fourth with a score of 14.850, also on the high bar.
Ending the 2013 NCAA Championships and Jepson's 22nd season as head coach, the Nittany Lions closed out another exciting year. With all six of the gymnasts earning All-American honors on the final day, Penn State has a lot to be proud of.