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Anticipation Mounts for Nittany Lions' Double Dual Against Illinois

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By Maria Evangelou, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Last weekend, the Nittany Lions opened their away meet slate with head-to-head competition against the Maryland Terrapins. Refreshed and ready to take on a bigger meet back home, Penn State will take on Illinois with double the action: the men's and women's teams will compete at once for the first of this year's two double dual meets.


Unlike her previous head coaching stop at Eastern Michigan University, head coach Sarah Brown is now working alongside a men's gymnastic team, something her previous university lacked. In the heat of her first season with Penn State gymnastics, she is also about to experience her first double dual.


"This is my first double dual as a coach, so I've kind of been listening to everyone else about how it's been done in the past," Brown said. "We're going to march out together as a team, and then at the end of the meet we'll do autographs together as a team, and I think whether the meet runs a little long on either side, we'll be there encouraging the other team and making sure we're feeling the support from one another, but as far as pre-meet rituals nothing really changes." 


The team has been busy with a mixture of preparing for such a big event in combination with working on perfecting routines from their meet against Maryland.


"Our focus yesterday at practice was really on correcting the errors we had at Maryland, so now the double dual is going to be our focus today," Brown said. "We're doing a little bit more of a distraction-type workout, and getting ourselves aware of the fact that when we're competing on beam.  It's not just going to be silent in the arena with background music, the men will still be competing and cheering each other on. I think there's going to be a lot of positive energy in this meet."


With a loud and big crowd, coach and gymnasts alike agree that the extra-busy atmosphere is encouraging and exciting to them. Brown knows the girls love competing in front of a big crowd, and are looking forward to showing off some great routines that they have been working hard on in the gym. 


"We're reminding ourselves how we practice and going into the meet with that mindset," junior Gianna LaGuardia said. "It is exciting going into the meet with the men, because we practice with them every day." 


Despite the recent loss for the Nittany Lions (1-2, 0-2 B1G), the team was able to nab some impressive scores. 


On the vault, LaGuardia tied for the top spot with teammate Briannah Tsang and Audrey Barber of Maryland, with each gymnast posting a 9.800.   Junior Mason Hosek also brought home a first-place score, with a 9.900 on the balance beam.


"I think it's just the little things at this point, focusing in on the details is really what it comes down to," Tess McCracken said on what it takes to be successful. "It's nice to have all the freshmen really know what it's like to compete at home and away, so to come home this week it'll be nice." 


The team, which has already built a special bond with each other and their coaching staff this season, looks forward to the new experience for both the new freshmen on the squad and coach Brown. 


"From day one, training in our facility with the men has been different for me. I've watched other programs do it before and I always thought that was a really cool unique bond between the athletes," Brown said. "We're obviously close as coaches because we spend time together in the office and watch each other train our athletes side-by-side every day, but this will be my first time with men in gymnastics so I think it's going to be a lot of fun."


With the men's squad competing in six events for the double dual and the women in four, the teams will have time to watch and encourage each other from the floor.  


"We had a team meeting yesterday and decided that we're going in with composure and with purpose so that we're calm, so that we have a reason to go in and we're still aggressive when we go out there," McCracken said. "The double dual will be really great with the men's team, having them in Rec Hall gives a lot more energy."


Of previous years, LaGuardia and McCracken agreed on one thing: "I just remember the energy," LaGuardia said. "Even though there is a lot going on, it's very exciting." 


The Nittany Lions will host Illinois at Rec Hall this Saturday, Jan. 27, at 4 pm. 


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