By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Pressure mounts and excitement is at a peak as the Penn State women's gymnastics team packs the busses to head to University of Maryland for its first away meet of the 2018 season. The Nittany Lions are slated for six meets on the road, kicking off with an intra-conference competitor.
The competition will not only be the first Penn State away meet for the freshmen gymnasts, but also for head coach Sarah Brown, who is in her first year with the program. The team, who holds a 1-1 (0-1 Big Ten) record thus far, shows little to no signs of nerves after a close loss to Nebraska last weekend, and the strong relationship that the squad has formed is evident.
"I think we're all just really excited about getting on the bus together as a group," Brown said. "Travel trips just have a way of bringing a team together, which is always fun."
The team will depart from State College at 3 pm on Thursday, and will kick off their arrival in Maryland with a team meal, followed by a short team meeting at the hotel, which Brown says will allow for bonding while also re-focusing the squad's attention on the next day meet.
"Throughout the day Friday, we'll do a couple things in the hotel to make sure we're staying focused but not sitting in our rooms and just thinking about the competition, because we're not competing until 7 pm so it definitely makes for a long day," Brown said. "You want to have some events and things that will break up their mental thoughts, so they're not sitting there festering about the meet all the time."
Brown, who has previous head coaching experience at Eastern Michigan University, practices a balance of discipline and preparedness, while also making sure the team's connectivity and bond is on point.
"I think my philosophy kind of has stayed the same in that I want the kids to enjoy being on the bus together, relax, turn movies on, do homework, listen to music, and just be comfortable," Brown said. "It really is whatever is going to get these girls in the best mood possible. Getting up and having breakfast together on Friday morning I think will be nice, and then a couple of team activities just to make sure we're staying focused."
After a strong start on bars where the Nittany Lions posted a 49.325, Penn State saw unusually slightly less success as they placed almost a full point lower than Nebraska on beam, their second to last event. The team looks forward to a change of rotation this Friday, where the balance beam will cap off the meet.
"It's going to be a little bit different for us, but I think we're looking forward to it because we do start on bars, which is a strong event for us," Brown said. "I think we'll be able to carry that energy and momentum into an event like vault, which does take a little bit more energy. I think last week we were a little high after the bar event because we did so well, and when we got to beam it was kind of hard to manage where all that adrenaline and energy was."
Junior Mason Hosek has had a few seasons of travel under her belt, and looks ahead with confidence in her team. After nailing a solid 9.800 on the beam last week, she believes there is nowhere to go but up.
"Being a junior on the team, kind of knowing how the road works, I think the best thing that we have going into this meet is that we have been preparing ending on beam," Hosek said. "That's going to be the make or break of this meet due to the way of rotation, but I also think going on the road is a good opportunity for us to show our strengths. I think our team is a really good team on the road, and is well adapted to any equipment or place we're at, so I think that's going to be a really great time for us. I'm really excited for the freshmen to travel for the first time."
Kourtney Chinnery is a new face on the squad, but says she does not feel any nerves before hitting the road.
"As a freshman, I'm really excited for traveling for the first time with the team. I've really gotten the chance to get to know the girls and spend time with them and they've truly become family to me. I'm not nervous, I'm really excited and I feel like we're really prepared."
Chinnery is additionally excited to showcase her skills in a new event for the freshman. Last week, she performed solely on vault, nabbing an impressive 9.850.
"I'm really excited to show off my new floor routine, I've been working really hard on it," Chinnery said. "I'm just going to go out there with a go get it mindset, I'm going to have confidence and faith in everything I've been doing. I trust God, and I trust the process that we've been going through. I'm just excited to be part of the success of this team this year."