By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Although the Penn State men's gymnastics team fell to Illinois in a close 412.5-405.9 battle, they maintained resilient for both the surplus of fans donning the Blue and White, and the Penn State women's team, who was also competing alongside men throughout the afternoon's double dual meet
"I think we saw some bright spots." head coach Randy Jepson said. "Plenty of room to grow and a lot of season to still do it. So, we'll keep positive."
While the Penn State's women's gymnastics team also fell to the Fighting Illini, the two representations of Penn State gymnastics proved to be a uniting force for each other and the fans throughout Saturday's contest.
As the meet wound down to the men finishing up their events on the parallel and high bars, the women gathered to provide support and encouragement for their Blue and White counterparts. As sophomore Sam Zakutney landed a near flawless high bar routine, the women's team erupted alongside of the cheers heard loud from the crowd.
Besides the opportunity to continue to build camaraderie and chemistry between the two teams, double duals also create an opportunity to stimulate future high-intensity environments. Instead of the distraction of the men competing on pommel horse and floor, while the women perform on the uneven bars and vault, both teams take it as an opportunity to prepare for higher-caliber meets that bookend the season.
"We train in that all the time," Jepson said. "It's busy in our gym, the girls are there, the music is loud, it's a busy atmosphere. It's great for us because we get a champion format test so to speak in terms of intensity so when you get to the end of the season you are used to that as well but you know we just try to train."
Freshman Alex Frack and Zakutney didn't seemed phased by the increased energy, louder music, and constant progression of events.
Last week's Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Frack, erupted Rec Hall with his 14-score parallel bars performance that notched a personal best for the underclassmen.
"Alex Frack continues to compete well," Jepson said. "He struggled a little bit on pommel horse but you know he came through and it's just a good test overall."
As the score between the Nittany Lions and the Fighting Illini fluctuated all afternoon between the two forces, Frack's mature performance proved clutch and resilient to pressure.
Like Frack, Zakutney proved to be another bright spot for the Penn State men's gymnastics team.
"He [Zakutney] finished really soundly on two events with what great routines and great scores," Jepson said. "Great to see him finish strong."
As the only all-around competitor of the meet, Zakutney finished with a flourish for the Blue and White as he landed identical 14.45 scores on the parallel and high bars. He was the only Blue and White victor on the day as he secured the all-around and parallel bars titles.
Zakutney will be taking his momentum into next week for the Canadian national championships before returning to the Penn State Nittany Lions as they take on the Ohio State Buckeyes down the stretch.
The Nittany Lions will be on the road for nearly a month as they kick off their away stand against the Buckeyes on Feb 9. Penn State men's gymnastics will return to Rec Hall on Feb. 24 to compete against the Minnesota Gophers.
"We've obviously got some things to correct and to focus on and we will do that," Jepsen said as his team looking forward to the road.
For more information on Nittany Lion men's gymnastics, log onto www.GoPSUsports.com and follow the team on the various social media platforms.