By Tom Shively, GoPSUSports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The first meet of the season is behind the Nittany Lions, as they look forward to this weekend's meet against Army in the home opener. Here are five things to know about the upcoming meet.
1. Rare Home Opportunity
Saturday's meet marks the first of only four home meets for the team, as they have a road-heavy schedule all the way through the postseason. The team will be home only once in February and twice in March.
"Our guys are really excited," head coach Randy Jepson said. "They love competing in Rec Hall. We're going to have a little different format, push the bleachers to one side and have a little different floor space. There'll be a little different seating so our fans better get there early. We're hoping to have a packed house."
2. Fabian Valdez Leads a Stellar
The Nittany Lions took four individual titles, including a victory for Valdez in the uneven bars, in the season opener. Valdez is one of five freshmen on the team and the first to take home an individual event title.
"He's a seasoned competitor even though he came in as a freshman," Jepson said. "He's competed at a high level all the way through the junior ranks. But you have the team on your back now and you don't want to let anybody down."
Valdez and fellow freshman Stephen Nedoroscik are expected to be forces on the pommel horse as well, although teammate Colin Coates took the title at West Point.
3. Returning All-American Leroy
Clarke Stepping Up as a Leader
As an All-American on both parallel bars and still rings in 2016, Clarke obviously will play a large role in determining this team's success this season. Clarke finished second in the pommel horse at West Point and is looking to build off a solid performance in the opening meet.
"He's so experienced, and so steady," Jepson said. "He's been injured all fall and through the summer and he just did a great job this weekend. He's rock solid and he's just a great competitor, so we're going to see a lot of good stuff from him this year."
In addition to Clarke, this Penn State team is loaded with senior talent who can help carry this team all the way to the top. DiFulvio spearheads the effort, coming off a strong finish at West Point, taking home a title on still rings.
"[Their leadership] is huge because you want to see the ethics and the standards of our team transfer from season to season," Jepson said. "I have alumni that come back who were here in the 50s and 60s, and they talk about that. They want to see that this team succeeds as well. That torch that's been passed down for generations is huge. Watching that happen now is a big deal. Knowing that our freshmen are going to be doing the same thing in a few years is big."
5. Versatility is a Major Key
Nothing shows a team's depth like success in the all-around, and the Lions took care of business in the meet at West Point with relative ease. Michael Burns took home the spoils as the team swept the event to secure an overall victory.
"It shows our depth," Jepson said. "We didn't really have great performances, we had solid performances. With the kind of talent we have right now, that's what we're looking for. Be solid, be consistent, and be yourself."
Hopefully the Nittany Lions can build off their success heading into this weekend.
Saturday's meet will be a dual with the Penn State women's team beginning at 4 p.m. at Rec Hall.