By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a stellar new coach, a Big Ten Freshman of the Week, and a win to knock out their first win of the season, the Nittany Lions have reason to feel confident as they prepare for their upcoming meet against Nebraska, the first meet of their Big Ten slate.
This past weekend marked newly-hired Penn State head coach Sarah Brown's first meet of the season with the gymnasts. However, the former Mizzou gymnast and Eastern Michigan head coach has been hard at work with the team since she first stepped foot in State College last May. As the Nittany Lions gear up to take on the Huskers in Rec Hall this Saturday to kick off the Big Ten competition, Brown feels ready to get the home season going.
"My goal when I got here was really to understand the girls' personalities," Brown said. "I really feel like we've spent the last eight months doing that. I definitely know that I'm doing things differently than they have been done in the past, and so getting that trust and buy-in has been huge, and we're all moving at the same pace and the same direction now."
Despite falling to Nebraska last season on the road, the combination of a new coaching staff, some new faces on the team, and a first meet win leaves Brown feeling confident.
"The first meet was a really solid starting point for us. We had some mistakes early on in the line ups, but I was proud of how well we recovered," Brown said. "Now we know we can make the routines, and moving forward we're focusing in on the little details and making sure we're looking at each routine piece by piece."
Most recently, new face Lauren Bridgens was honored Big Ten Freshman of the Week after contributing largely to the squad's 194.275-192.900 win over Eastern Michigan last weekend.
"It's really exciting for the program that we're already being recognized on that level," Brown said. "It's a starting point, I know if you ask Lauren she knows she has more in her, so I think she's proud of the accomplishment, I'm very proud of her, and I know she's going to continue to get better as the season goes on."
The freshman from Maryland agreed that the team can only go up from here.
""Now's the time to start focusing on the smaller details," Bridgens said. "I think for our first meet we were focused on getting out there and knowing what it's like to compete together."
Senior Brianna Tsang, a familiar face and renowned Nittany Lion gymnast, looks forward to what's to come after a winning all-around score of 39.050 with freshmen teammate Bridgens.
"I thought we had a really good team dynamic already going into the season," Tsang said. "Having the first meet was super exciting, we didn't get the chance to have a full intrasquad in Rec hall before this, and the freshmen did really well with that."
In addition to kicking off the Big Ten slate, this weekend's meet will be titled Throwback Alumni Night, where the team will welcome gymnastics alumni back to the floor. In addition, the meet will be combined with the Flip for the Cure competition, which focuses on honoring those who have survived and are battling breast cancer.
The gymnasts will don new black and pink leotards, marked in the school's original colors, complete with a throwback logo. Following the meet will be an alumni reception, where coach Brown and some of the athletes are excited to converse with and get to know the alumni one-on-one.
"This weekend is huge for me, because it's an opportunity for the alumni to be here and be part of the program again," Brown said. "It's very important to me that the athletes recognize who came before them and how everything was paved before we got here, so we owe these alumni so much and we're so thankful that they're willing to come back."
No. 17 Penn State opens Big Ten action on Jan. 13 at 4 p.m. in Rec Hall.