By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Penn State University opens it doors to students and faculty for the spring semester, the Penn State men's gymnastics team continues its training for the first meet of the 2018 slate. Since last summer, head coach Randy Jepson and his team of 21 have been preparing for this weekend's Army West Point Open and the challenges beyond.
"It starts at the beginning of summer and it is all just a domino effect so I know how it goes," sophomore pommel horse participant Stephen Nedoroscik said heading into the year. "I've been ready for this season since the beginning of last summer."
The national pommel horse champion, Nedoroscik, returns to the team alongside fellow All-American Sam Zakutney. While returning sophomores and captain Benjamin Cooperman will headline this Nittany Lion team, Jepson foresees a completely different team dawning the Blue and White from last year's squad that finished with a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten championships and included six gymnasts who individually qualified for the NCAA Finals.
Here's five things to look for as the season gets underway.
1. New Year, New Look
With the graduation of last year's captain Leroy Clarke Jr. and all-around competitor Dominic DiFulvio in the rearview mirror, plus an onslaught of early season illnesses and injuries, the Nittany Lions will be turning to new faces to make a meaningful impact throughout competition.
"This years been a lot about dodging some of the issues we've had," Jepson said. "We had a really tough fall with a lot of guys hurt and so that's good and bad and it's allowed us to build some depth on people and get guys ready that weren't necessarily right in the mix...We are going to have to be very smart about what we do and how we do it and the other nice thing is that when the guys do get healthier and they get back in we will be a little bit stronger because of that."
2. Team-First Mentality
As unforeseeable challenges fell in the wake of the new season, every gymnast continues to see success through the efforts of the team instead of sole power performances.
"I just try to really make sure the guys put the team forward first and foremost over themselves and being one unit is going to help us work together as best possible," senior Benjamin Cooperman said.
"We don't exactly aim for a huge start value but we tend to be very clean with our lines and such," Nedoroscik added.
"I think we are off in a good position to get started with the people we have ready and that's exciting," Jepson said.
3. Consistency is Key
Instead of relying on star-studded performances, Jepson expects a consistent team effort across all events. He highlighted the team's past success on the pommel horse, but also looks forward to the possibilities of being a formidable ring team.
"We just had a practice competition on Friday," Jepson said. "They did a really good job in terms of how they hit really consistent which is what I am looking for. We don't have horses to really knock out huge scores this year so we have to hit as a team and be consistent."
4. Captain Says
At the conclusion of last season Cooperman was elected, through the team's uniting decision, to the lead of the 2018 squad. As the experienced senior suits up for his last season competing for the Blue and White, the only thing he can focus on is the team's chemistry that will hopefully motivate their season and championship goals.
"I think for us it is really just staying with each other and being confident and having that trust in one another," Cooperman said. "We had a great intrasquad the other day in practice and the energy was great and the team culture is really outstanding right now and that's kind of what is going to take us to that next level being able to confide in one another and be there for each other to get the job done."
5. Excellence in Education
Aside from their hopes for this season, the Penn State men's gymnastics team continues to impress in and out of competition. Their excellence in the classroom transgresses to their meets and events.
"I am going for electrical engineering and as one of the many engineers on the team we all strive to get that really good GPA and that helps us be disciplined in and out of the gym," Nedoroscik said.
Out of last semester's 21 student athletes, 13 of the gymnasts made Dean's List, while pursuing a number of engineering and pre-med majors.
The Nittany Lions will head to New York this weekend as they look to take on the teams representing at the West Point Open.
"The guys are excited to get out and show what they have worked all year for and get a real test in front of judges and see where they are at," Jepson said.
For more information on Nittany Lion men's gymnastics, log onto www.GoPSUsports.com and follow the team on the various social media platforms.