Recently in Men's Gymnastics Category


By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Just over a week removed from the Big Ten championships, the Penn State men's gymnastics team is in full preparation for the upcoming national championship meet.

 The meet will take place on Friday and Saturday at West Point, a place the Nittany Lions took the overall team title in the West Point Open at the first meet of the season.

After scoring 411.200 at the Big Ten championships and picking up a fourth place finish, head coach Randy Jepson likes where the team is at headed into the final meet. 

"You take a third of our scholarships out and you tell us we're going to be fourth in the Big Ten and knocking on the door to qualify for the finals at the NCAAs with a 90 percent hit, that's not bad," Jepson said.  "We've performed to our expectation with what we have and what we can do, and I feel like we can even be a little bit better."

For guys like sophomore Wyatt Tyndall, who picked up an individual third place finish at Big Tens, the focus is all on taking the successes from last week and applying them to team performance now that everyone is all in for a national title. 

"The big thing was that we came up big as a team, we have a lot of momentum going into the NCAAs," Tyndall said. "We had a few mistakes as a team as a whole, and I think we can feed off that."

 The Nittany Lions are one of 12 teams to qualify for the team competition, with the top three teams moving on to Saturday's final. The Big Ten once again showed its depth, as all seven schools made the 12-team field.

Competing against quality teams week in and week out may have helped the Nittany Lions in the long run, as they have been preparing to win at the highest level all season and always had to be at the top of their game to have success in the Big Ten. 

"We've been talking about peaking and preparing and being ready at the end, and they're physically prepared but there's always that question mark in guys' minds," Jepson said. "I think after our senior competition, where we performed very well, and this last weekend where we went out and did that, we're ready to go beyond that now and I think the guys have quite a bit of confidence going into the NCAAs."

All season the team has relied on their six seniors to put up big numbers in critical situations, and those guys have been able to consistently deliver time after time. This weekend will be the last time all of the seniors will compete together, something Jepson has done his best to avoid thinking about. 

"It's always tough because as a coach and as an athlete, you don't really think that way," Jepson said. "You want to think about the task at hand, and that's preparing, going out and performing and getting the job done. But then all of a sudden it hits them and us and wow, you know that went really quick." 

On the other side of the spectrum, the underclassmen are still relatively new to the championship process and could be battling some nerves. Tyndall has certainly noticed the difference the second time around, coming in much more confident for this meet than he was as a freshman. 

"I kind of know what to expect. Experience is the biggest thing and just being out there not as nervous this time." 

Nerves aside, the Nittany Lions have to like their chances, as they posted the sixth-best qualifying score at 412.725. Oklahoma comes in as the favorite, qualifying with a score of 432.850, nearly 10 points better than the second-highest team. Ohio State's 418.050 is the highest Big Ten mark and third overall.

Oklahoma, Stanford, California, Air Force and Navy join the seven Big Ten schools to complete the field.

By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Seven of the top 10 teams in the nation hail from the Big Ten, but only one school will have a chance to call themselves conference champions. Who that is will be decided this weekend in Champaign, Ill.

The Nittany Lions have been as impressive as anyone in the conference lately, racking up two tough wins over Michigan and Iowa at home in the final weeks of the regular season. Now, a week removed from competition, head coach Randy Jepson and the team look to stay hot.

"You've got to have all six events, can't have one that drops," Jepson said. "We've done that before, other schools have done that before where you go out and have a great meet but then you lag behind in one event and it takes you under. Solid steady performance across the board and stuck landings, hopefully that will show in the standings."

Each routine will be increasingly important due to how close every team in the Big Ten is to each other, meaning one event could be the difference between winning and losing.

"There's just so many teams that stack up closely that it's going to be the ones that hit those dismounts a little bit more than the next team. The hit ratio is going to be really important," Jepson said.

There won't be any surprises this weekend, as all seven teams are familiar with each other and know what to expect come Friday night. Meets have been hotly contested all year, and any of the teams are capable of stepping up and having a big performance.

While this meet comes only two weeks before the NCAA Championships and could technically be viewed as a tune-up, Jepson emphasized the importance of winning a Big Ten championship, something the team has looked at as a major goal since the beginning of the season. 

"The biggest thing for us is the conference championship. We're not looking down the road at the NCAAs, we're looking at this weekend. If we do our job, we'll have a good standing. We want to go knock out routines as best as we can and see where that places us in the fold," he said.

Despite not wanting to look ahead, there is no doubt that it is important to the team to stay consistent through this stretch and into the NCAAs if they succeed as a team. Everyone wants to be their best at the most critical points of the season, and a solid weekend in Champaign will go a long way towards allowing this team to contend for a national championship.

However, a quiet weekend at Big Tens doesn't necessarily spell doom for the Nittany Lions. 

"It's interesting you bring that up," Jepson said on if you need to compete well in the conference meet to have a chance at nationals. "[The 2000 team] was sixth at the Big Tens and two weeks later they were national champions. They don't necessarily correlate, but it's great to go in and knock out a great Big Ten championship as momentum into the finals." 

How much momentum they carry remains to be seen, but the Nittany Lions have a lot to be confident about as they hit the road.

The event will be hosted by the University of Illinois. Competition begins at 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights.

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - For Penn State senior Dominic DiFulvio, flying doesn't just constitute twisting and turning in the air on vault or pulling off a perfect landing on rings. Flying is something he's always had an interest in and from an early age wanted to pursue as a career. 

"I always wanted to fly, so I just kept with that when I was a kid," DiFulvio said. "When I got here, I figured why not do something I always loved as a kid. [Gymnastics] definitely kindred that aspect of my life." 

DiFulvio took a step towards making that dream a reality when he interned with the Penn State Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence last year. He had the opportunity to work with some experts in the field including Dr. Jose Palacios, someone who has been active in the Penn State community for some time now.

"I talked to Dr. Palacios about doing an internship with him because I wanted to get some experience under my belt before I left here," DiFulvio said. "I worked with him a lot with blade coatings. We did the process of icing and de-icing and how the coatings affect the ice and how it sheds off the blade. We did a bunch of accelerometer tests and we just did a ton of stuff. It's kind of crazy like I can't even think about all the stuff we did."

DiFulvio undoubtedly received recognition for the quality of his work, as some of the work he did during his internship was sent to NASA scientists.

In terms of his mentor, Dr. Palacios, they share a special bond: both are/have been members of the Penn State gymnastics team during their time at University Park. Jose was on the team from 2000-03, competing on the 2000 NCAA championship team as well as helping Penn State win its first Big Ten gymnastics championship in 2003, his senior season. 

Despite the connection, DiFulvio said Palacios didn't focus too much on talking about gymnastics, rather focusing on trying to prepare DiFulvio for the job market and the career field, something DiFulvio was very grateful for. 

"We sometimes talked about gymnastics, it was more that he is a pretty busy man so I tried to stay pretty on task when I was with him," DiFulvio said. "He was always very helpful when it came to asking about any advice about grad school or future jobs or just anything that we were doing. 

As far as grad school is concerned, it's something DiFulvio definitely wants to pursue, but not until he has a couple years of experience in the field under his belt. 

"I have a few interviews that I'm trying to get done before I leave here, and I'm hoping to end up down in the Virginia area," DiFulvio said. "I'm looking to go to grad school after I join the industry for a little bit, do two to five years and then come back [to school]. I'm looking for the space side of aerospace, so I'd like to do stability and dynamics control, spacecraft and space vehicles. That's the goal of what I want to get to."

Looking ahead to his career, DiFulvio understands the significance of his time with Dr. Palacios and how it better prepared him for opportunities in the field.

"[The internship] is something that I value very highly," DiFulvio said. "He taught me a lot of things that I didn't know and I wouldn't have known had I not done that with him. All the experiences that I have gotten here with leadership and with teamwork is definitely going to carry over into the working world."

While perhaps not being the most vocal leader towards DiFulvio, Palacios did most of his teaching through his work, demonstrating the ins and outs of crafting space vehicles and other technical aspects to DiFulvio without really being too overbearing. 

"It was a 'lead by example' kind of thing," DiFulvio said. "He just worked his butt off every single day and I just aspire to be more like him."

DiFulvio will graduate this spring with a degree in aerospace engineering.

 

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Saturday marked the final meet at Rec Hall for six Penn State seniors, and they made every moment count in a 420.4 - 414.0 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes to close out the regular season.


It was the highest total score put up by the Nittany Lions this season, and it came with significant contributions from several members of the senior class. Dominic DiFulvio and Leroy Clarke Jr. put together quality performances, combining for three individual titles (Clarke tied with Stephen Nedoroscik on pommel horse), bringing their home career to a fitting end.


"It was very fitting that [the seniors] did a great job," Clarke Jr. said. "Me personally, I've been here for five years, so I feel like it was imperative for me to go out with a bang. With that in mind, I didn't put any extra pressure on myself. I just did what I had been doing in practice and all season."


For a class that has done so much for Penn State over the last four years, Saturday's dominating performance served as a curtain call of sorts. Clarke Jr., a two-time All-American, and DiFulvio, the team captain, deserved this performance as much as anyone on the team.


"I'm just so happy for them, they really did a great job," head coach Randy Jepson said. "The team really rallied around them. That's one of the things I told the guys before we went out. I said 'these guys have really worked hard all their time here, and the rest of you need to put it in now for them.' We wanted to send them out with a really hard-fought victory and they did that."


The Nittany Lions came out firing right at the beginning of the meet, much differently than last week. Against Michigan, they got off to a slow start with a couple of falls on pommel horse but against Iowa, they put together their best pommel horse effort of the season and paired it with a well-rounded performance on floor exercise to take a comfortable lead after the first two rotations.


The highlight of the floor routines was Chris Sands' performance, as he hit almost all of his runs and gave a huge fist pump as he finished the routine. He was all smiles walking back to the rest of the team, a picture representative of the entire afternoon for the home team.


"They were just much more relaxed," Jepson said. "We know they were ready to do the stuff and pommel horse was much better. They just competed with a little less intensity today in terms of thought process, and I think that was good. It's about going out and doing what you do every day, and they're enjoying it."


The Nittany Lions needed this performance, as Big Ten and NCAA championship meets loom in the upcoming weeks and they wanted a momentum boost.


"It's the last regular season meet, and it helps us in terms of doing well at the Big Ten and national championships," Clarke said. "We hope to do great on our last meet too."


After the meet, the six seniors and their families were honored by Penn State in a short ceremony followed by a tribute video. The team and the coaching staff gathered around the seniors as the video went through the careers of the seniors and capped off a great afternoon.


"For me, I felt like I was going through it for a second time," Clarke Jr. said. "I'm a redshirt senior and I kind of went through the same thing last year. I think it's a great feeling. Part of me is just ready to move on to the next chapter of my life but part of me feels that it's kind of crazy to think that I'm never going to compete again out here on the competition floor."


Clarke Jr. and the rest of the seniors have a chance to really put together a special end to their careers as they will begin the postseason with the Big Ten Championship meet in two weeks.


By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There comes that bittersweet point in every season that it's time to say goodbye to the student-athletes who have meant so much to a program during their careers. Come Saturday, it will be that time for six Penn State men's gymnastics seniors, as they compete at Rec Hall for the final time in their careers. 

Leroy Clarke Jr., Franz Card, Dominic DiFulvio, Joseph Boyle, Christian McSwain and Jeremy Munn will all take the home floor for one last ride against the Iowa Hawkeyes before moving on to bigger and better things. 

This weekend gives the guys a chance to look back on their years as Nittany Lions, many of them appreciating all Penn State has done for them in their time here.

"I will miss the people the most," Clarke Jr. said. "Without the people I've met on my journey here, it wouldn't be as special as it has been. I've had some of my best memories and lessons learned from the people I have met through this university and I look forward to building on the relationships that I've started here."

"I'd definitely say [my favorite part of Penn State] was the brotherhood," Munn said. "Going up and the pressure builds, and then you hit your set and turn to the bench and your team is there cheering loud for you and is just as pumped for you."

The guys also shared some of their favorite memories from Penn State, many including the Big Ten championship won by the team in 2015 but many more about the camaraderie and relationships built up by these young men as they journeyed through the roller coaster of college life. 

"Mine would have to be my first time competing at Rec Hall," Card said. "I competed on high bar for the team and it was just a great feeling immersing myself in the brotherhood after and kind of being more a part of the team." 

"Being in front of the home crowd and being able to hear everyone cheering and being in front of our friends and family," DiFulvio said. "It's an amazing opportunity to be able to have, and you don't get to have that every day."

"My favorite memory gymnastics wise was when we won Big Tens at home," McSwain said. "My favorite memory school wise was the 2017 THON pep rally. I am really going to miss the friendship and brotherhood of this team." 

Maybe not as vocal as in years past, the Nittany Lion seniors still found a way to be heard during competition, including a plethora of awards and honors such as earning the aforementioned Big Ten title two years ago. Clarke Jr. is the most recent to rack up an award, earning the National Gymnast of the Week honor just last week. 

"Every group is tough, they're all just special in their own way," head coach Randy Jepson said. "This group was a little more soft-spoken, but they were so together and they did everything asked of them. That's why they improved and got so much better." 

This final home meet serves as one last chance for the seniors to put on a show in front of the home fans while building momentum for the postseason, and they are certainly relishing the opportunity to do so. 

"It's definitely an important note heading into postseason," DiFulvio said. "That's something that we really want to do."

"It's definitely a personal goal of mine to finish strong and have a good memory of my time here as a Penn State gymnast," Card said. 

"It's always a lot better to end on a good note and it's a lot more fun when you can nail your set and go back to the bench with your head held high," Munn added. 

One thing these Nittany Lions will not miss is the course load, as Boyle is looking forward to finally being done with organic chemistry (although he will miss the school spirit and sense of community).

As far as future plans go, the paths for these guys go through many different areas. Card and Munn both hope to continue their gymnastics careers and head to the University Games this summer in Chinese Taipei. 

Whether or not this is the end for each individual senior, it's been one heck of a ride.

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The outcome wasn't always a certainty, but the Penn State men's gymnastics team was able to outlast Michigan at Rec Hall, winning 409.2-405.3. The Nittany Lions struggled in the early going, but they were able to find their groove in the end and pull out their first Big Ten home win.

Penn State dug themselves a hole early, as the Nittany Lions had two slips in the pommel horse, their very first event.

"We really struggled on pommel horse, which is unfortunate because we are really good there," head coach Randy Jepson said. "We hoped to get some distance on Michigan and that didn't happen." 

Nonetheless, the Nittany Lions showed resiliency when they needed it, finishing pommel horse with the top two scores, posted by Leroy Clarke and Colin Coates.

The strong momentum continued as Penn State, despite trailing after three events, began to find stride later in the meet.

"One of the things we've been teaching this squad is learning how to put your foot on your opponent," Jepson said. "The last three events, they really did that. They came through and we only had one hit that we missed in the last three events. Especially on high bar, and we had three great sticks to wrap that up. Great finish." 

One event that stood out in the turnaround was the rings, as the Nittany Lions tallied the top three scores in the event from Dominic DiFulvio, Clarke, and Chris Sands. DiFulvio won the event, finishing with a 14.400 score and one of the most consistent performances he had put together all season.

"That was a big stepping stone since that's the event we were down by a point or two," DiFulvio said. "We needed to get a big rings score and that was big. We're going to just keep that momentum throughout the rest of the year." 

Freshman Sam Zakutney put in another strong performance as well, winning two events. Zakutney tallied a 14.200 on parallel bars and a 14.300 on floor exercise. Zakutney has been hitting on all his routines at home in the last few meets, as this performance backs up an all-around title that he earned last time in Rec Hall against Ohio State.

Saturday wasn't just about the competition, as the 2007 national championship team was in attendance to witness the victory and celebrate the 10th anniversary of their achievement. 

"We've been told plenty of stories that happened with their team, so it was really cool to see Matt Cohen and those guys," DiFulvio said. "It's really inspirational. Those guys went through a lot during their season that they won that championship. To have them being here to cheer us on is huge for us. I was able to speak to Matt Cohen a little bit, and it was really awesome to do that." 

Interacting with the national championship team allowed the current Penn State gymnasts to pick up some positive advice going into the final few weeks of the season.

"[Cohen] said always keep your head up and always stay humble," DiFulvio said. "I've kind of had that mentality, so hearing him say that, it's really nice to hear since that's the mentality I've been having." 

DiFulvio and the rest of the Lions certainly kept their heads up this afternoon, and they look to carry the momentum through the rest of the year. They host Iowa next weekend in the final meet of the regular season before heading to the Big Ten and NCAA championships.

By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Saturday will be a special day at Rec Hall, as members of Penn State's 2007 National Championship team will be on hand to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their achievement. That year was the most recent of 12 NCAA Championships brought home by the Nittany Lions, the highest mark in the nation.

The championship meet was held at Rec Hall that year, meaning the Nittany Lions were able to win a title on their home floor, something they accomplished only one other time. 

Head coach Randy Jepson held the same position in 2007, winning one of his three national championships in his time at the helm of Penn State. To him, the 2007 team holds a special place among his best squads. 

"I think back right before the meet in Rec Hall, sitting back in the women's volleyball locker room having confidence in my guys and knowing in about three hours we were going to be national champions," Jepson said. 

A brunch will be held before the meet, allowing all the team members to get together and catch up on how far each has come in the decade since they hoisted the trophy. The coaching staff will share some stories as well. 

One impact the 2007 team has also done since their championship run is help bolster the Penn State program, paving the way for younger athletes to come to Happy Valley. They, along with the 2000 and 2004 championship teams, returned the glory to Penn State gymnastics, allowing for some more big time talent to come here.

Four Nittany Lions earned All-American awards that season, headlined by Tommy Ramos, the Puerto Rican who was an All-American in every year at Penn State. He was joined by Vladi Klurman, Casey Sandy, and Nick Virbitsky. Sandy was the anchor of the pommel horse team, which was ranked No. 1 throughout the season. 

A notable name who has come through the program since then is Trevor Howard, who won an NCAA title in 2013 on the floor exercise in his freshman season. Howard would go on to have a very successful career as a Nittany Lion, and is currently training to hopefully compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. 

 As far as the current team is concerned, seeing the 2007 team and understanding the victories that they had could go a long way in helping this team make a run at a national championship. Seeing that success can play out in the way that it did that year and seeing those guys in person right in front of them could certainly help these young Nittany Lions understand he magnitude of what they are competing for. 

For the freshmen especially, who haven't yet had a chance to be around the program for an entire season and have not had any NCAA postseason experience, this could give them an opportunity to talk to some of the guys that made the run and understand what it takes to win in the postseason. 

Nonetheless, a stellar weekend lineup is in store for the team, capped off with the meet against Michigan. The meet is set to start at 3 p.m. at Rec Hall and is one of the two remaining Penn State home meets.


By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The college adjustment period appears to be an unfamiliar concept to the Penn State men's gymnastics team's freshman class. This group has now won seven Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards between them, by far the most of any school in the conference. 

Favian Valdez leads the way with four Freshman of the Week awards on the season, including the first two weeks of the season. For him, it's still special every time he wins despite the sustained success. 

 "It's always great getting [the award]," Valdez said. "It hasn't gotten old yet and hopefully I can win some more." 

He has a legitimate claim to more as well, as his numbers so far as a Nittany Lion have been more than worthy of recognition. He has five of the top 10 all-around scores posted by Penn Staters this year as well as having two of the top-four finishes on vault.

He's coming off a hot performance at Navy, picking up second-place finishes in pommel horse and vault, finishing only behind teammate Dominic DiFulvio in the latter event. His vault score of 14.100 is a career high for Valdez. 

Not to be outdone, Sam Zakutney has shined as well for Penn State, picking up his third Freshman of the Week award last Monday for his performance in the win at Navy. It's Zakutney's third time winning the award, and the second time in the last three weeks. 

The Canadian won the high bar and parallel bars events and notched a third-place finish in floor exercise. He was also the all-around champion in the team's previous meet against Ohio State on Feb. 11.

 "It's an honor, to not even be an American and still be considered one of the best freshmen in the Big Ten," Zakutney said. "It's just crazy and nothing I really could have hoped of achieving."

The young guns have certainly grabbed head coach Randy Jepson's attention from the start, and he's not at all surprised that they continue to produce at a high level every week.

 "Number one, they're savvy competitors. They've been experienced in the junior ranks at the junior level. Everybody is kind of pulling their own weight. I'm really pleased with what I've seen in work ethic and production on the floor," Jepson said.

Success naturally generates a higher level of competition throughout the team as well. Seeing the freshmen class thriving motivates the upperclassmen to work harder each and every day while the freshmen continuously learn from the upperclassmen around them.

Support will continue to be key as the regular season nears its conclusion and teams begin to gear up for Big Tens and the NCAA meet.

The Nittany Lions will look for back-to-back wins this weekend as they head to Lincoln, Nebraska for a tri-meet against Iowa and host Nebraska. The Nittany Lions have already seen the Cornhuskers this season at the West Point Open in January. The meet is set to begin at 5 p.m. ET. 

Penn State then has a week off before returning to competition in their final two meets against Iowa and Michigan. Both meets will be hosted by Penn State at Rec Hall.

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - It was quite a weekend for Penn State men's gymnastics, as the Nittany Lions put together a very strong performance at the Winter Cup in Las Vegas. Five gymnasts, including former Penn Stater and volunteer assistant coach Trevor Howard competed, and they all represented the university well. 

The gymnasts totaled nine top-20 finishes between them, including Howard's seventh-place finish on still rings and Leroy Clarke's identical placing on pommel horse. Some of the best gymnasts from all over the United States competed, and the Nittany Lions were right there with the elite. 

"All of the guys did well," head coach Randy Jepson said. "We had a couple high points and for the most part it was a great showing for Penn State."

Back east, the remaining members of the team brought home no shortage of hardware themselves, taking the top spot in the athlete dance competition at THON on Saturday night. They beat out the women's volleyball and football teams, helping energize a crowd of students and families that raised over $10 million for pediatric cancer research. 

"We were anxious to see how the guys would do, they put a lot of time and effort into that," Jepson said. "Wednesday is our light day and they took some time then to really work on their dance."

The team reunited early this week to put some solid practice sessions in before one of the critical stretches of the season. Only four regular season meets remain on the schedule, including back-to-back road meets this weekend and next.

There will be a change in format to watch out for the rest of the season in the way meets are scored. To this point, each team would send six competitors to participate in each event, taking the top five scores. From now on, only five gymnasts will be allowed to participate in each event and every score will count towards the team's overall total. 

While this puts more pressure on individual performance, it's certainly nothing the Nittany Lions haven't experienced before, as most gymnastics events leading up to the college level are scored individually, placing all the emphasis on every performance counting. This is simply par for the course and an exciting opportunity for Penn State to show off the consistency and depth on their roster during this final Big Ten push. 

"We prepare that way all season," Jepson said. "We're always looking at hit ratio as the team but also as individuals and we're constantly looking at who are the most dependable guys."

The Nittany Lions head to Navy this weekend to take on the Midshipmen. It will be their second time seeing the Midshipmen as they met earlier in the season at the West Point Open. The road trip continues next weekend at Nebraska before closing the regular season at home against Michigan and Iowa. 

Saturday's meet will begin at 2 p.m. in Annapolis.

VIDEO: Men's Gymnastics THON 2017 Pep Rally Dance

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Another highly anticipated THON event, check out the full men's gymnastics pep rally dance! The Nittany Lions took home the top spot, claiming the trophy for the best performance of the night. 

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