UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a few days separate Penn State women's gymnastics from returning to action its season opener, which kicks off Saturday, Jan. 6 in Rec Hall.
"It's been really exciting, we've been working really hard since I took over in May and since the girls have been back on campus since August," head coach Sarah Brown said. "Each step of the way, they continue to buy in and we continue to push a little bit harder each month. Since we've been back from Christmas break, December 27th, we hit the ground running and I feel like we're going to be ready right at the right time. I'm really looking forward to the first meet of the year."
For the first time since the 2016 campaign, the Nittany Lions will open the year with back-to-back home events. With the staff dialing up the pressure in practice ahead of the opener, Brown is confident Penn State will be ready to go when the moment arrives.
Saturday's home opener also features an opportunity for fans to pick up a schedule poster as well as meet the team for autographs. Before heading out to Rec Hall, check out five things to know ahead of Brown's first season at the helm of the Nittany Lions.
Since arriving on campus in May, a top priority of Brown's was getting to know the Nittany Lions on a deeper level. Together, they've done everything from team bonding activities to community service and team meals. Providing key opportunities to get eachother, for Brown, heading out on the road will also provide a few additional occasions to grow closer as a team once the season gets underway.
"They're just a fun group of girls," Brown said. "They really care about this university, they care about their sport and they work really hard. It's been fun getting to know them in the gym, but also outside of the gym. We've taken part in some community service events like Toys for Tots and since we've been back from break, we did fun things like an Escape Room and meals at my house and I feel like I've had an opportunity to get to know them outside of the gym."
Back at Home
Excitement is high when it comes to returning to Rec Hall. The Nittany Lions will host Eastern Michigan in a nonconference opener before jumping right into Big Ten action with Nebraska up next. With the return looming, returning to competition has been the total focus as the days tick closer to meet day. Penn State will have the opportunity to test out the new atmosphere, hosting one practice in Rec Hall before the opener arrives.
"We've just been working so hard for this moment," Brown said. "Ever since we started this year and we've had squad 54 together, we've known that it's come down to this weekend. We're really looking forward to kicking the year off strong. I think we're going to do well and I also think we're going to continue to build as the season continues. We're going to continue to build depth at each event and I think the girls are going to be ready at the right time.
Looking at the Big Ten
For Brown, there's no surprises when it comes to the Big Ten, with the Huskers slated for week two, opening up a four-meet swing of all Big Ten opponents. With a total of seven conference teams ranked with the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women (NACGC/W) Preseason Coaches' Poll, Brown is well aware of the strength of the conference.
"It's a strong conference, I think anything can happen and I think it's a long season so we're looking forward to starting off consistent and strong and then continuing to build on that, but also maintaining that level of consistency as we head into the Big Ten Championships in March," Brown said.
Among leadership across the team, Brown was quick to point to lone senior Briannah Tsang as one of the team's most consistent leaders headed into the season. Tsang, who placed 11th in the women's artistic gymnastics all-around final at the World University Games, returns having earned first team All-Big Ten honors in 2016 and 2017.
"She's just a work horse for us in the gym and she's also really good at connecting with the athletes on a one-on-one level, so I've been really impressed with that," Brown said.
Brown also noted though that she and the staff isn't striving for a one leader only type of atmosphere, instead opting to encourage each individual to try and be a leader in their own way.
An NCAA Regional Site
Looking way ahead, Penn State is one of six NCAA regional sites, which ultimately lead to the NCAA Championships. Only the top 36 teams in the final Regional Qualifying Score (RQS) standings will advance to the NCAA Regionals, which kick off on April 7 in Happy Valley. Penn State is one of six NCAA Regional sites.
"It's definitely on our minds," Brown said. "It's something we talk about quite frequently, we're very excited for that. We know that we have to do our job throughout the season in order to be a high seed at that regional and we want to be able to do well throughout the season so we can peak at that time."