By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Saturday marked the final meet at Rec Hall for six Penn State seniors, and they made every moment count in a 420.4 - 414.0 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes to close out the regular season.
It was the highest total score put up by the Nittany Lions this season, and it came with significant contributions from several members of the senior class. Dominic DiFulvio and Leroy Clarke Jr. put together quality performances, combining for three individual titles (Clarke tied with Stephen Nedoroscik on pommel horse), bringing their home career to a fitting end.
"It was very fitting that [the seniors] did a great job," Clarke Jr. said. "Me personally, I've been here for five years, so I feel like it was imperative for me to go out with a bang. With that in mind, I didn't put any extra pressure on myself. I just did what I had been doing in practice and all season."
For a class that has done so much for Penn State over the last four years, Saturday's dominating performance served as a curtain call of sorts. Clarke Jr., a two-time All-American, and DiFulvio, the team captain, deserved this performance as much as anyone on the team.
"I'm just so happy for them, they really did a great job," head coach Randy Jepson said. "The team really rallied around them. That's one of the things I told the guys before we went out. I said 'these guys have really worked hard all their time here, and the rest of you need to put it in now for them.' We wanted to send them out with a really hard-fought victory and they did that."
The Nittany Lions came out firing right at the beginning of the meet, much differently than last week. Against Michigan, they got off to a slow start with a couple of falls on pommel horse but against Iowa, they put together their best pommel horse effort of the season and paired it with a well-rounded performance on floor exercise to take a comfortable lead after the first two rotations.
The highlight of the floor routines was Chris Sands' performance, as he hit almost all of his runs and gave a huge fist pump as he finished the routine. He was all smiles walking back to the rest of the team, a picture representative of the entire afternoon for the home team.
"They were just much more relaxed," Jepson said. "We know they were ready to do the stuff and pommel horse was much better. They just competed with a little less intensity today in terms of thought process, and I think that was good. It's about going out and doing what you do every day, and they're enjoying it."
The Nittany Lions needed this performance, as Big Ten and NCAA championship meets loom in the upcoming weeks and they wanted a momentum boost.
"It's the last regular season meet, and it helps us in terms of doing well at the Big Ten and national championships," Clarke said. "We hope to do great on our last meet too."
After the meet, the six seniors and their families were honored by Penn State in a short ceremony followed by a tribute video. The team and the coaching staff gathered around the seniors as the video went through the careers of the seniors and capped off a great afternoon.
"For me, I felt like I was going through it for a second time," Clarke Jr. said. "I'm a redshirt senior and I kind of went through the same thing last year. I think it's a great feeling. Part of me is just ready to move on to the next chapter of my life but part of me feels that it's kind of crazy to think that I'm never going to compete again out here on the competition floor."
Clarke Jr. and the rest of the seniors have a chance to really put together a special end to their careers as they will begin the postseason with the Big Ten Championship meet in two weeks.