By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Seven of the top 10 teams in the nation hail from the Big Ten, but only one school will have a chance to call themselves conference champions. Who that is will be decided this weekend in Champaign, Ill.
The Nittany Lions have been as impressive as anyone in the conference lately, racking up two tough wins over Michigan and Iowa at home in the final weeks of the regular season. Now, a week removed from competition, head coach Randy Jepson and the team look to stay hot.
"You've got to have all six events, can't have one that drops," Jepson said. "We've done that before, other schools have done that before where you go out and have a great meet but then you lag behind in one event and it takes you under. Solid steady performance across the board and stuck landings, hopefully that will show in the standings."
Each routine will be increasingly important due to how close every team in the Big Ten is to each other, meaning one event could be the difference between winning and losing.
"There's just so many teams that stack up closely that it's going to be the ones that hit those dismounts a little bit more than the next team. The hit ratio is going to be really important," Jepson said.
There won't be any surprises this weekend, as all seven teams are familiar with each other and know what to expect come Friday night. Meets have been hotly contested all year, and any of the teams are capable of stepping up and having a big performance.
While this meet comes only two weeks before the NCAA Championships and could technically be viewed as a tune-up, Jepson emphasized the importance of winning a Big Ten championship, something the team has looked at as a major goal since the beginning of the season.
"The biggest thing for us is the conference championship. We're not looking down the road at the NCAAs, we're looking at this weekend. If we do our job, we'll have a good standing. We want to go knock out routines as best as we can and see where that places us in the fold," he said.
Despite not wanting to look ahead, there is no doubt that it is important to the team to stay consistent through this stretch and into the NCAAs if they succeed as a team. Everyone wants to be their best at the most critical points of the season, and a solid weekend in Champaign will go a long way towards allowing this team to contend for a national championship.
However, a quiet weekend at Big Tens doesn't necessarily spell doom for the Nittany Lions.
"It's interesting you bring that up," Jepson said on if you need to compete well in the conference meet to have a chance at nationals. "[The 2000 team] was sixth at the Big Tens and two weeks later they were national champions. They don't necessarily correlate, but it's great to go in and knock out a great Big Ten championship as momentum into the finals."
How much momentum they carry remains to be seen, but the Nittany Lions have a lot to be confident about as they hit the road.
The event will be hosted by the University of Illinois. Competition begins at 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights.