By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the midst of "We Are" chants and the chaotic double-dual atmosphere, the Penn State men's gymnastics team maintained its cool throughout a close bout and an even narrower finish. Although the Penn State Nittany Lions fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers 404.350 to 402.400, the Nittany Lions contested their adversity through strong performances on vault and rings.
"I know at this point in the season you want your team to really come out and fight with some spirit," head coach Randy Jepson said.
With injuries plaguing the rotation, Jepson looked for a team effort to compete against a solid Minnesota squad.
With junior Joshua Smith leading the charge, the Nittany Lions laid out clean routines and electric landings when their number was called on vault.
"Going into vault I felt pretty confident," Smith said. "We did a lot of numbers in the gym. The hard work comes from the gym so once you go in you already have the confidence of just doing the vault so there was really no nervousness, just doing it for the team."
Smith's 14.600 tied Minnesota's Shane Wiskus for the first best score on vault and second best score of the entire meet.
"It is a humbling experience," Smith said. "I mean I don't want to brag or anything like that. I want to stay humble cause it is always the work that we have to continue on to Big Ten and NCAAs but it did feel good to accomplish that."
Freshman Brennan Pantazis and sophomore Brayden Borromeo followed in Smith's footsteps as they laid out commanding performances on vault to bring the Blue and White faithful into a Nittany Lion roar.
"We were just cleaner," Jepson said. "Minnesota is very good on vault and they struggled today. They did harder vaults than we did and we were a little cleaner in our landings and it was good to see Josh come through with a pretty solid vault as well as a stick by I think it was Borromeo stuck his vault. That was huge right at a pivotal time so those are the kind of performances we are looking to see."
Pantazis notched third place on vault with a 14.550 showing, while Borromeo came in fifth on a solid 14.300 performance.
Similarly to Smith, junior Chris Sands' performance on rings helped motivate the Blue and White forward as they battled through a tightly matched meet.
"Chris has been getting better all the time and he's been getting to be a better competitor," Jepson said. "We've had some good tests this year in terms of close contests and Chris has performed well in all of those. That's what you want to see from a guy who is a junior at this point and be able to really go in and knock out routines when your team needs it."
Sands toped the rings podium at 14.200 alongside Penn State gymnasts Noah Roberson and Greg Tamargo. Redshirt junior Roberson placed second, while senior Tamargo came in third.
"Going into rings, that's one of the events we've always been strong on," Sands said. "Penn State is pretty much known for its ring's lineup and since Greg went before me being second up you still have to put in the work and so it was another day in the office in that sense."
As the calendar flips to March, the Penn State men's gymnastics team will take its competitive spirit on the road as they face the Iowa Hawkeyes and Arizona State Sun Devils in back-to-back weeks. The Nittany Lions will be back in Rec Hall for their home finale on March 17 against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
"We have to keep up the drills," Smith said. "We have to keep everyone healthy as well. That was a factor for us in the beginning and it still kind of is right now but once we get everyone healthy and continue to do the drills we definitely have it coming up in the Big Ten and NCAAs."
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