By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
PARK, Pa. - With both men's and women's teams from Penn State and Illinois on
the floor for the season's first of two double duals, energy was brimming in
Rec Hall Saturday afternoon.
The Nittany Lions came into the day coming off a 195.550-195.025 loss at Maryland last Friday. As a team at Maryland, Penn State recorded season-best scores on the balance beam (48.975) and the floor exercise (48.875). Not only did three Nittany Lions capture event titles, seven Penn Staters set career-best marks or tied career-best scores and the team set season-best scores on the balance beam and floor exercise.
The Illinois Fighting Illini headed to Happy Valley with an overall record of 3-1 and a record of 1-1 in Big Ten action, their first and most recent loss being to Michigan.
Despite an opponent with an impressive record, the Nittany Lions didn't let the pressure get to them. Penn State posted up at the vault to start, where junior Gianna LaGuardia led the team's scoring with a 9.850, in comparison to Illinois' highest vault score of 9.775.
"This past week we focused on landings, and we definitely came through that with us sticking almost all of our bar dismounts," sophomore Tess McCracken said. "Every meet we're building and getting more confident about what we're doing.
The Nittany Lions also managed to nab a winning team total of 49.050 on the uneven bars, with a top score of 9.875 secured by both Lauren Bridgens and Sabrina Garcia.
"For the most part, I thought we did a really good job on bars," head coach Sarah Brown said. "We stuck a lot of dismounts and hit a lot of handstands, in general I thought our vaults were really big too, but we need to put those and the stick together."
Brown specifically highly anticipated the balance beam, Penn State's third event, where the team has shown significant improvements and energy this season. Last weekend, the Nittany Lions registered a season-best balance beam score. This time around, an unfortunate fall to start put the team in a position for need for improvement early on, but senior Briannah Tsang showed composure and her skill before tallying a 9.900, the highest score of any Penn Stater of the night. The Nittany Lions' lead began to decline after a tough Illinois team brought talent to the beam, outscoring Penn State 49.200-48.750.
"I thought we put together a strong lineup," Brown said. "We made some changes in practice but we were relatively consistent and we were able to recover after a fall."
"I think we're going in the right direction," Tsang said. "We obviously had a couple little mistakes, but we can only go up from here."
Penn State managed to keep spirits high to finish on the floor for the team's final rotation. An uncharacteristic fall almost sent the Nittany Lions off track, but Tsang's 9.900 score assisted the scoring greatly. Despite the help, Penn State just barely fell short yet again to Illinois' 48.900 score.
"We did have to make a switch in the touch with our lineups, and I thought the kids handled it so well," Brown said. "They competed with poise, they competed with energy, and our focus all week was composure and purpose, and I thought we showed that tonight. I definitely think I'm seeing improvements in the quality of our gymnastics. No matter what, every single night we go out there we want to see better performances, and overall I did see that."
teams concluded the meet by cheering on the men in their final two of six
Despite a close 195.750-195.475 loss, the Nittany Lions can celebrate their highest scoring meet of the season--an impressive feat, especially for their first double dual of the season, and coach Brown's first of her coaching career.
"I thought it was a really strong night for us," Brown said. "Definitely the most complete meet that we've put together so far, still had some mistakes but in general, I think we're moving in the right direction and we're learning more and more about our athletes each time they compete, so I'm really proud of where we are right now. In terms of the double dual, this prepares us for postseason, this is exactly what Big Tens are going to be like, what Regionals are going to feel like, and we had an amazing crowd."
"This is the most we've ever seen in Rec Hall, and it was just great to see how many people came out to watch us," said McCracken, who also celebrated a birthday on Saturday. "It was honestly great, for half the meet I forgot it was my birthday, but it was an amazing feeling."
No. 32 Penn State heads to East Lansing, Michigan, to take on Michigan State on Sunday, Feb. 4. The meet is slated for a 1 p.m. start at the Jenison Field House.