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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Last April in the midst of cheers and NCAA National Championships excitement, current sophomore Stephen Nedoroscik stood at the top of the pommel horse podium amongst some of the best gymnasts in the United States.

 

"Just a really energetic vibe there," Nedoroscik said. "I didn't expect to win honestly, but I just wanted to have fun." 

 

This April, Nedoroscik plans to do the same.

 

Nedoroscik traveled to Chicago, Illinois early Wednesday morning along with his teammates. Penn State will compete as a team on all events this weekend, while Nedoroscik and freshman Brennan Pantazis will represent the Blue and White individually on pommel horse and floor respectively.

 

"They've been just fine tuning and they look sharper and sharper each day, really really pleased with that," head coach Randy Jepson said. "They are ready to go, there's nothing else we can do. You can't do anything extra at this point. More's not better so we're doing just fine that way."

 

As underclassmen, Nedoroscik and Pantazis have built a relationship around their expectations in the gym.

 

"Seize every moment," Nedoroscik on the advice he's given to the younger gymnast. "Starting from like beginning of the season, we've just been talking, especially since Winter Cup. He has like a champion mindset, kind of like what I did last year. He's going into win." 

 

Similarly to Pantazis, Nedoroscik's freshman season proved his ability and skill as an underclassman earning All-American pommel horse honors. This season he secured his career best on his specialty at the West Point Open with a 15.000 tally, while also overcoming the mental challenge of meeting championship expectations from his competition.

 

"It's a tough thing to have a target on your back and to feel like you have all of these expectations, which is I know what he felt at the beginning of the year," Jepson said. "There's nothing different than you were before you were national champion so getting him to embrace that and to understand that that's the biggest thing otherwise you put this mountain on yourself and I think he's worked through that fairly well."

 

"It feels good that people look up to me as competition and I look forward to having a good competition," Nedoroscik said. 

 

Nedoroscik has stiff competition this year in fellow pommel horse specialist Brandon Ngai, a Fighting Illini and previous NCAA champion, and Alec Yoder, a Buckeye and a former bronze medalist at the Doha World Cup in Qatar.

 

"There are some other guys out there that are really good," Jepson said. "So you know there is a good field, really good field."

 

Aside from the competition, the entire atmosphere at a high-stake event like the NCAA National Championship adds more pressure.

 

"It's fantastic," Jepson said. "You know the great thing is they got the taste at Big Tens...the emotion that noise everybody in their carrel just going crazy and the crowd is going to be a really good crowd."

 

But Nedoroscik and the rest of the Penn State men's gymnastics team are ready for the challenge.  

 

"Every away meet so far this year I've hit and I've done really well and I just want to keep that momentum going into NCAAs," Nedoroscik said.

 

"Just go out and have fun do your job do your routine and let the chips fall where they may and if you do everything you can that's all you can do," Jepson added.

 

Can Stephen Nedoroscik repeat as a champion?

 

"I want to win again," Nedoroscik said.

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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Brennan Pantazis, last weekend's Big Ten floor championship brought his entire freshman experience full circle.

 

"He really struggled on floor the first day of training and it was a different kind of punch, the floor was different and it was hard for him," head coach Randy Jepson said. "I knew if he just got some time, he'd rock and he did. So, I've been happy with it."

 

"I took like two months off before I came to college so that's definitely like why I was struggling," Pantazis said. "Trusting in the process and doing everything extra that I can do to get back to where I was definitely helped."

 

Since the first meet of the season, Pantazis began working towards the coveted Big Ten Championships.

 

"It is a whole different environment once you step into that next level," captain Ben Cooperman said.

 

He began his freshman campaign with Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors and career-bests across the board as an all-around competitor at the West Point Open and at Rec Hall against Army West Point in the first two weeks of competition. That start gave the team confidence in their newcomer.

 

"Brennan is a guy that we knew could compete at a high level," Jepson said. "There are four different types of competitors...you have the guy that doesn't practice well and he doesn't compete well and you have the guy who practices well, but doesn't know how to compete. Then you have a guy who doesn't practice well, but he finds a way to compete and that drives you crazy because he would be so much better if he worked...then you have a guy that practices well and competes well and Brennan is both of those."

 

Before Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Pantazis' best floor routine came at the West Point Open when he landed a 14.250 for the Nittany Lions.

 

At the highly anticipated conference championships, Pantazis bested the competition and a new personal best with a clean and dynamic floor routine. He led the entire field of Big Ten floor gymnasts at 14.275.

 

"It's nice to get a guy who practices well and competes well, but then in a meet can do even better than what you hoped," Jepson said. "Brennan has a routine that he is really confident on now and it's very clean. He lands very well physically. His technique on landing is excellent on floor. That's what floor comes down to, you gotta land."

 

"It's pretty awesome," Cooperman said. "We really have all the guys pulling for each other and we all get to share in their glory even if it's individual."

 

When Pantazis stuck the final landing of his floor routine, the Crisler Center erupted with cheers from his Blue and White brothers, while he left the floor with a fist pump and a smile.

 

"It definitely amplified the excitement and the joy I was feeling," Pantazis said. "I mean I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face for the rest of the night."

 

"One of the best things about him, he's really hard on himself he wants to compete at a really high level," Cooperman said. "He gets really excited. He wants the team to succeed and it was awesome to see how energtic he was after that final stick on floor, but he's a great teammate and a really great guy to have and he's definitely doing well for the team."

 

The young freshman has even garnered comparisons to other accomplished Penn State men's gymnastics alumni, like Trevor Howard and Louis Vargas. Howard was a national champion on floor during his freshman year, while Vargas went to the Olympics representing Puerto Rico in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

 

"He [Pantazis] can find another gear," Jepson said. "We've had some other guys like that here before. Trevor Howard, Louis Vargas, guys that compete really really well and we knew he had that in him and it was just a matter of time I think before he felt on top of things enough."

 

He also made history at his freshman Big Ten Championships. In the footsteps of another Blue and White gymnastics alum, Mike Dutka, Pantazis was only the second Penn State gymnast ever to notch the Big Ten floor exercise title.

 

"It's really exciting," Pantazis said. "I guess I'm the second guy in the history of Penn State to do that on floor...just a really nice accomplishment stepping stone and hopefully going to look for a national title in two weeks."

 

Sophomore teammate Stephen Nedoroscik and Pantazis will head to Chicago, Illinois next weekend to represent Penn State men's gymnastics in the NCAA Championships.

 

"I feel...really amazing, I mean it was a cool experience," Pantazis said. "A really exciting and jovial moment in my life and I don't know it gave me more motivation to push harder going into NCAAs next weekend."

 

"They are just enjoying the last two weeks of preparation and they've worked hard all season to get a good result so I think they are ready for that," Jepson said.

 

Beyond NCAA Championship expectations, Pantazis' rookie season has set the tone for his next three years as a Nittany Lion.

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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Throughout the season, Penn State men's gymnastics team and its fans find the most anticipation and competition from their conference counterparts, because those dual meets always lead to one weekend in April.

 

This weekend the stakes will be raised as the best of the Big Ten gymnastic programs compete for the championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

 

"It is one of the most exciting meets in the world," head coach Randy Jepson said. "I have been to the World Championship, the Olympic games. There is more fervor in the arena for a Big Ten than the World Championships that I've been to and even the Olympic games."

 

The Nittany Lions will face familiar foes in Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio State.

 

"These are guys that are really passionate about their teams and their teammates," Jepson said. "On an NCAA team, those guys want to know who's in the fox hole with them and it's just fun that way. It's mano-e-mano so they really look forward to it."

 

Although Nittany Lions are an even 3-3 against their Big Ten competition this season, they are coming off a crucial victory against the Michigan Wolverines. On March 24, the Blue and White came from behind to outlast the Wolverines 407.350 - 405.050 in Ann Arbor.

 

"That was definitely a big confidence builder for us so I think from that I think we'll have the confidence to go into Big Tens and just know that we can do it," junior Josh Smith said.

 

"Michigan was a great meet," freshman Alex Frack said. "Lots of hits, lots of clean gymnastics. I mean we almost went 100 percent with our hit ratio and that was huge for us. We needed that mentally, physically, the whole team. We feel prepared now and we just got to take that and keep it going."

 

As a force on both bar events, Frack finds great opportunity for himself and the team at his first Big Ten championships of his career.

 

"Got a lot of energy going into it," Frack said. "Team's looking really good. I'm super pumped, I mean this is what we've been training for. The season comes down to these last two meets and I am looking forward to it."

 

In addition to the different bar rotations that found it's swing against Michigan, Jepson finds great potential in his ring lineup.

 

"We are good on rings," Jepson said. "First event out and I hope the judges recognize that...because we are markedly better than some other teams."

 

Putting its best foot forward, Penn State will begin the meet on still rings. Throughout the season, senior Greg Tamargo and juniors Noah Robertson and Chris Sands have proven their consistency and strength on the event.

 

Jepson also sees the Big Ten championship as an opportunity to continue improving and evolving as a unit.

 

"All of our landings need to be solid, floor landings especially," Jepson said. "We want to be able to land better on vault as well. We are prepared to do a good job everywhere. I think we are really well prepared for this meet."

 

As the 2018 event leader in both floor and vault, Smith will set the precedent for Jepson's expectations and his teammates.

"[If] we go in there and do our very best we can't be disappointed with that if we go in and hit 100 percent and do whatever we can to get a win," Smith said.

 

Big Ten Championships are set for this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Team and all-around finals will take place on Friday, April 6, while individual finals will fall on Saturday, April 7.

 

"We just have to be consistent," Jepson said on the key to the meet. "The great thing about this meet, I've never seen a Big Ten meet like it. Every team is in contention. Every team is really good and that will be just a great challenge for our guys. They are really excited about that and it's going to come down to the last rotation and the last few routines and we will see what happens. We just want to be solid and do our jobs and see what happens."

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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For most households, family dinners are spent around the dining room table, but for sophomore men's gymnast Brayden Borromeo, dinners were spent at the local YMCA where his family grew to love gymnastics together.  

 

"It really gave us a lot of together time," Brayden's mother, Renee Borromeo, said. "We didn't very often get all of us sitting around the dinner table together in our house but we would often have together at the gym or at restaurants."

 

Before the Borromeos found their second family at Penn State, they created their close-knit nuclear family in Littlestown, Pennsylvania as each of the four Borromeo children found themselves spending time together and training in preparation for the next gymnastics event.

 

At the head of the family stands Renee and Nino Borromeo; two established professionals in the physical therapy field. Renee is an associate teaching professor at Mont Alto, and the program head for all of the Physical Therapy programs in Penn State's commonwealth, while her husband, Nino, is a practicing physical therapist.

 

"It really was helpful to have them there to be able to diagnose injuries and to help with recovery and just be there all the time for me," Brayden's older brother and former Penn State gymnast, Josh Borromeo, said on how his parents helped his own gymnastics career.

 

Aside from their ability to help their children through injuries, the two parents also immersed themselves in the gymnastics community in their own way. Renee coached, while Nino was the president of the Gymnastics Parents Association at the previously mentioned YMCA.

 

"Gymnastics was really one of the core activities that my family was involved in," Josh said. "My mother coached, my father was president of the gymnastics parents' organization growing up when we were younger, so I mean a lot of our vacations, a lot of our family friends, were involved with gymnastics."

 

Josh, the oldest of the four Borromeo children, first began gymnastics when he was five-years-old.

 

"One day Josh, the oldest, came home from school with a little flyer that said it's an after-school program and they would bus the kids from the school to the YMCA for once a week an hour of gymnastics and would bus them back and that started it," Renee said. "Next thing you know, he's going three days a week then we're going five days then we ended up being seven days a week."

 

From there, the Borromeos became a gymnastics family as Renee and Nino's two daughters, Maiata and Eliza, and their youngest son, Brayden, followed in Josh's footsteps.

 

"We just were in the gym all the time, every weekend," Renee said. "There were sometimes four different meets in four different places and with all four kids going."

 

"We all had something we could connect upon," Brayden said. "It really brought us a lot closer because we were all in the gym all the time and you could always look over and see what your brothers and sisters were doing during gymnastics...We always strived to be better than each other because we wanted everyone to be the best that they could be."

 

Their childhood competitive gymnastic careers sent them across the country from Georgia all the way to Oregon.

 

"Car rides, plane trips, we did those things and it became apart of our family vacation structure and we just spent a lot of time together," Renee said.

 

The Borromeos pursued their love for gymnastics, athletics, achievement, and each other to the doorsteps of Rec Hall and Penn State.

 

"Really there was no question in anyone's minds where they were going to go to school and it was through the connection and just visiting the campuses and getting a feel for the culture that we really really started to love it," Renee said on Penn State.

 

Although Maiata and Eliza chose to diverge from their gymnastics background upon admission to Penn State, they found ways to unite their family's shared work ethic and athleticism.

 

While pursuing an arts and architecture degree, Maiata involved herself with Penn State's competitive ballroom dance team. She is now an established interior designer in New York.

 

As a current senior at Penn State, Eliza will be graduating as an ambassador for Changing Health, Attitudes and Actions to Recreate Girls (CHAARG), with a kinesiology degree. She plans to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy after graduation.

 

"What you need in gymnastics is that kind of high level of motivation," Renee said. "You fall a thousand times before you ever get it right and to set the goal and work hard for a long time to achieve it. It takes that kind of a personality and I think it builds that kind of personality too. I can see they are all successful as young adults...you know it kind of still permeates their lives that goal setting and the long-term goals and being able to figure out the steps that it takes to get there."

 

Before the two sisters made their way to Happy Valley as students, the Borromeos first joined the Penn State and men's gymnastics community when Josh joined the team in 2005. In the tradition of head coach Randy Jepson and the Penn State's gymnastics program, Josh fully embodied the role of student-athlete as he majored in mechanical engineering and specialized in still rings.

 

"The gymnastics team, my gosh, talk about Randy Jepson," Renee said. "Wow. The coach I would pick out of every coach in the country. He is such a good coach such a good molder of men, but really, he is more concerned about these kids as people than as gymnasts...the priorities are in the right place and its just been so so good on all levels. I can't say enough about that."

 

"The Penn State guys were my heroes and so that's where I really wanted to go in middle school and high school," Josh said.

 

Randy and Josh worked together to help secure a national championship in 2007 and created an opportunity for Josh to captain the 2008 squad.

 

That 2007 championship was not only a pivotal moment for Jepson, the Penn State men's gymnastic team and Josh, but also Brayden, a young and inspiring gymnast.

 

"It's been funny to watch Josh when he was on the team and see his little brother, Brayden," Jepson said. "He would be doing mushroom and you know a little tiny kid working on stuff and I just knew he would develop and be a solid guy.

 

"I really felt like I was apart of the team and I was giving them everything that I could," Brayden said. "Being apart of that really just made me fall in the love with the sport and fall in love with Penn State."

 

For Brayden, seeing his older siblings succeed only motivated him further.

 

"I just want to make everyone proud," Brayden said. "Everyone who has come before me has made my parents so proud so I just want to keep that tradition going."

 

"What I wanted for Brayden was just to have an experience like I had at Penn State," Josh said. "I wanted him to have that same experience bonding with his teammates and really kind of cultivating this family atmosphere. That's something that I've tried to make sure he recognizes that is more special than any other championship you could win.  It's what I cherished most about being a Penn State athlete."

 

"I'm here for the team," Brayden added. "I'm here to do what I need to do to make this team better and if that's putting on three routines a week, I'll do that. If it's being the biggest cheerleader to get my team going, I'll do that. Everything is about the team here and that's what I love about it."

 

While Brayden is in Happy Valley doing everything he can for his Penn State teammates, his first team- his family, will always be a driving force for him, and the sport of gymnastics helped to bring them all together. 

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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the summer of 2014, current senior Quest Hayden went to coach at Woodward's gymnastics facility in Pennsylvania before he started his first semester at Penn State. That same summer, current junior Chris Sands left his Lancaster, Pennsylvania home to go train under the staff at Woodward.

 

Four years later, the two gymnasts have evolved into teammates and even closer friends.

 

"We understand each other on a personable level," Hayden said. "He's very understanding of me and I am very understanding of him."

 

Their friendship grew through their combined love of gymnastics. Although only a year apart, Hayden became a mentor for the younger Sands and his evolving gymnastics career.

 

"Quest and I met at Woodward," Sands said. "He came to coach with (former Penn State assistant coach) Slava [Boiko] and we met there and he helped me through a lot. He is a really technically perfect gymnast. He really knows how the human body rotates and all of the biomechanics and stuff like that and I was not a good gymnast when I was in high school."

 

"I coached there and trained there, but while we [Hayden and Boiko] were there he [Sands] was a gymnast there, a camper and I coached him a lot," Hayden said. "He was a cool guy and we would always talk and we had lunch together. Me and Slava would work together to help him be a better gymnast." 

 

Through the ties of then Penn State gymnastics' assistant coach Boiko and Hayden, Sands spent his senior year imagining himself in Blue and White.

 

"Well, I drew a lot of inspiration from Quest Hayden when I came here," Sands said. "He and I have been friends from years so I drew a lot on him. He's done a lot for me. He helped me actually like get interested in Penn State. He's helped me all along the way so I mean I can't thank him enough. "

 

As Sands narrowed his options between Penn State, Ohio State, Navy and a few other schools, Hayden gave his best-selling pitch in the only way he knew how: gymnastics.

 

"I was on my recruiting trip on senior night when he [Hayden] was brought in on vault last minute and he came in and absolutely nailed it and stuck that vault and everything," Sands said. "His ankles were hurting, everything was going wrong, but he came through and did that. That was a huge eye opener for me at the time."

 

As much as Sands needed Hayden's mentoring to focus and evolve his gymnastics career into the dominance he currently displays on rings, floor and the high bar, Sands has been a reliable friend and teammate throughout Hayden's injury prone career, one of the many teammates that has helped Hayden.

 

"Chris helped me with my injuries, but also the team," Hayden said. "Maybe after my shoulder surgery if I wasn't training for the team and the team's benefit I would have stopped gymnastics, but seeing these guys have a goal and I have a similar goal that I would train just as hard and harder to get back to where I need to be. So, they all helped me."

 

"He was really a big influence on the progression of my gymnastics that summer [2014] and he helped me through some injuries as well and now it's kind of coming full circle," Sands added.

 

Both gymnasts are grateful for their opportunity to not only be teammates, but also help each other process and confront the challenges that lay ahead of them as student-athletes in one of the toughest sports, physically and mentally.

 

"Quest likes to psychoanalyze a lot, I mean he is a psychology major, so that's most of his rehabilitation in a sense," Sands said. "His body is going to heal on its own, but it's helping him through the mental aspect of that helping him stay like up beat with him."

 

"Me and him [Sands] can always have deep talks with each other," Hayden said. "I'm a pretty silly guy, but deep down I think deep and he understands that."

 

The two gymnast's roads will diverge as Hayden graduates this spring and Sands returns for his senior season. Even after devastating injuries, Sands believes Hayden's inspirational connection with gymnastics will be a consistent influence in his future beyond the walls of Rec Hall.

 

"I really hope he [Hayden] finds like his true calling," Sands said. "Gymnastics is one of those things that he is just in love with so he's obviously going to try and continue that...I don't see him leaving the sport anytime soon."

 

Although Hayden will not suit up alongside Sands next season, Hayden still has high hopes and expectations for the evolving gymnast and the entire Nittany Lion squad.

 

"For him [Sands] the sky is the limit," Hayden said. "He is a very good gymnast, very talented, very strong...If he works on his technique and form, whatever goals he sets he can reach next year."

 

After years of learning from one another, pushing each other through challenges and creating a thoughtful support system, the two athletes have created a bond through and beyond the sport that brought them both to Woodward four years ago.

 

"He's helped me all along the way so I mean I can't thank him enough," Sands said.

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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Before they donned the Blue and White as competitive gymnasts, they were young athletes discovering the incredible feeling of learning skills, sticking landings and honing a specialty in gymnastics. On Saturday, the same athletes, who once dreamt of competing amongst for the Blue and White, closed the door on their dedicated Penn State gymnastics careers in Rec Hall.

 

"It really hit me all at once that this was my last meet in Rec Hall and I've been competing in Rec Hall since I've been about 12-years-old," senior Colin Coates said. "It's always just been amazing here and I really just wanted to soak it all in."

 

Although the overall results did not favor the Penn State men's gymnastics team over the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Nittany Lions were able to honor their hard-working and dedicated seniors who evolved from those young boys to distinguished men and athletes ending another chapter of their gymnastics journey.

 

"I just told them to go out and fun," head coach Randy Jepson said when asked about how he encouraged the senior's last meet in Rec Hall.

 

On Saturday, Penn State honored Benjamin Cooperman, Joshua Smith, Quest Hayden, Greg Tamargo and Coates with a ceremony and tribute video that recognized their development from young gymnasts into established gymnasts and role models.

 

"It was definitely an emotional day for me," Coates said.

 

The rest of the Nittany Lions worked hard to make the day special for the graduating seniors, including junior standout Chris Sands.

 

"He had an outstanding day a week ago in Arizona and led our team," Jepson said. "He came back into the same thing today with terrific landings. He stuck three landings on his three events."

 

"I felt pretty good," Sands said. "I mean at this point in the season this is our fourth meet in a row so it's pretty much like clock work now."

 

Sands highest score of the day was on the still rings when he landed a solid 14.150. Sands credits senior Hayden for a lot of his experiences and opportunities as a student-athlete at Penn State.

 

"Well I drew a lot of inspiration from Quest Hayden when I came here," Sands said. "He and I have been friends for years so I drew a lot on him when he was healthy and competing...He's done a lot for me. He helped me actually like get interested in Penn State. He's helped me all along the way so I mean I can't thank him enough."

 

Sophomore Sam Zakutney also showed up for the Nittany Lions and his graduating seniors when he notched the Nittany Lions highest score of the day with a 14.600 result on the parallel bars.

 

All five of the athletes left a legacy on their teammates and ended this season together in the gym that gave them another opportunity to continue to be those young athletes so many years ago just discovering the thrill of floor routines and the strength of conquering the pommel horse.

 

"Getting to see Penn State gymnastics when I was younger I always strived to be on the team," Coates said. "I think being here has really built me to be a better person whether that be in competition, be a better teammate, be better in school and I am really thankful for that."

 

As the Penn State Nittany Lions say goodbye to Rec Hall for the 2018 campaign, they will take their efforts to Ann Arbor, Michigan next weekend to close out the regular season against the Wolverines before Big Ten and NCAA Championships.

 

"We have our most important meets at the end of the year," Coates said. "We have Big Tens and NCAAs and I think the team is really gonna peak then and I think we can surprise everyone."

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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer    
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Rec Hall gears up for its last Penn State men's gymnastics meet of the 2018 campaign, the seniors prepare to dismount for the final time at home. As they stick their landings and hold their form on Saturday against Nebraska, these gymnasts will be competing for those little boys who fell in love with one of the most demanding sports so many years ago.

 

"It's kind of crazy to think about," team captain Ben Cooperman said. "You hear as freshmen that it goes by fast and it really does but it has been a really special opportunity to be able to compete for Penn State. So, it is really surreal but it is really cool to experience one last time."

 

Cooperman will be recognized on Saturday alongside Colin Coates, Quest Hayden, Greg Tamargo and Joshua Smith for their dedication to the program over the past four years.

 

"They've all been instrumental in the success of the team," head coach Randy Jepson said. "That's the tough part, you see guys go and you hope what they've passed on will be instilled in the guys that are coming up next and they can continue to perpetuate that."

 

Since his freshman year, Cooperman has exceeded expectations in and out of the gym because of his work ethic on pommel horse and rings, his dedication to the team and his respect of the sport. These qualities and developments motivated his teammates to give him the nod as the sole team captain for this season.

 

"I look at Ben and as a not really highly heralded guy coming in and now he's been elected team captain and he's done a really admirable job of doing everything we've asked," Jepson said.

 

As a management major, Cooperman is preparing for graduation and hoping to stay immersed in the gymnastics community through judging opportunities.

 

Like Cooperman, Coates has been a constant for the Blue and White since he joined the team in 2014. As a pommel horse specialist, he has won multiple events and even helped Penn State earn a bid into the NCAA championships.

 

"At NCAAs we just barely snuck into the top six and we hadn't been hitting pommel horse pretty much the entire season and we got the opportunity to go up," Cooperman said. "I think I was first up and I hit my set and then we had Quest right after me then Colin Coates...all three of us got an opportunity to hit our sets and to help qualify us into the next day and that was a really special moment to share."

 

Coates career best on pommel horse was a solid 15.050 at the West Point Open of his sophomore year.

 

"Colin's had a wrist injury that he has managed since last year," Jepson said. "He had surgery this summer. He's really limited in what he can do in terms of reps, yet he's gone out and been really steady for us and that's all we can ask for."

 

"I've always wanted to be at Penn State," Coates said. "I've competed at Rec Hall since I was about 12 years old as a JO [Junior Olympics] gymnast and to be able to get to put on the Nittany Lion and compete in Rec Hall again has just been amazing."

 

As a soon-to-be mechanical engineer graduate, Coates hopes to pursue a career as a design engineer within the automotive industry.

 

Like Coates, Hayden has remained resilient throughout countless injury-riddled seasons to continue to represent and lead the Blue and White.

 

"I look at Quest and he's had so many injuries," Jepson said. "It's just been really tough for him, but you know you don't always get what you hoped for and he's handled that very pretty well.

 

As an all-around competitor, Hayden's best event came as a freshman against Iowa when he scored a 14.950 on vault. His freshman season also gave him one of his fondest memories of Penn State gymnastics to this day.

 

"Definitely freshman year when we won Big Tens," Hayden said. "Everything happening the way it did with Alexis (Torres) getting injured...and then me having to fill his shoes and come in I thought that was a pretty surreal experience and the whole team got to share that as well."

 

Hayden hopes his love for gymnastics will carry over into his career as he plans to graduate with a psychology degree and immediately look for coaching jobs.

 

"I really want to be an NCAA coach so I am planning to volunteer coach at a NCAA job hopefully here, but we'll see what doors open up for me and everything," Hayden said.

 

Like Coates and Hayden, Tamargo has been immersed in Penn State culture since he was a little boy competing in Rec Hall at the start of a successful gymnastics career.

 

"My whole life, state championships almost every year from the time I was like six-years-old was always here at Penn State," Tamargo said. "So, I grew up competing at Rec Hall since I've been doing gymnastics basically my whole life so just being able to see how much its changed since I was a kid watching these guys growing up competing and now being at the point where this me now."

 

Since freshman year, Tamargo's development has immensely improved his success on vault, floor and rings. His still rings performance that secured a 14.600 against Nebraska in 2016 still sits above the rest of his career events going into this season.

 

"Greg is the same kind of thing he's stepped up," Jepson said. "He's come a long way from his freshman year...he's just gotten better and better and this season he is having the best season he's ever had."

 

Since an injury sidelined him last season, Tamargo will return next year for another season of representing the Blue and White in competition.


Smith has appeared on two events for the Nittany Lions in 2018, earning a win on both the floor exercise and the vault. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native has also notched two podium finishes on the vault with second-place finishes.

 

As the bittersweet day dons on the five student-athletes, they've reflected on the bonds they've forged, the memories they made and the sport and school they influenced.

 

"It's meant a lot being a Penn Stater," Hayden said. "Being apart of something bigger than myself, it's made me realize that my talents and everything that I do isn't just for me it's to help contribute to a bigger goal, a bigger picture."

 

They began as boys with dreams in a gym, some even in the very spot they will compete in on Saturday, and now they will stand in front of their crowd, teammates and mentors to say goodbye to one of their proudest accomplishments and look towards their new future and new dream. 

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's and men's gymnastics teams may be known for their flips, sticks, and landings in the gym, but the teams are also highly renowned in another, arguably more important category- their academics. 

With such a prestigious gymnastics program and standard Penn State sets for its student-athletes, the university emphasizes the importance of having academic support on campus. The gymnastics teams are linked to Sarah Cowart, their academic advisor who is their right-hand person for anything academic, career development, or study related. Both head coach Sarah Brown of the women's squad, and men's head coach Randy Jepson, work closely alongside Cowart and their athletes to ensure a close relationship and involvement between student and advisor. 

 "Sarah has been great in that she understands the kind of give and take of the different majors we have," Jepson said. "We have a lot of engineers, biomedical engineers and that kind of thing. Certain times of the year they have a pretty regimented curriculum." 

"She helps with our guys when they are going on the road and helping them get those excuse letters out so there is a good correspondence with the professors and those kinds of things," he added.  "Rescheduling exams too, she's even organized exams to be proctored on the road if they had to be. There is a whole host of things that are really appreciated by our guys." 

The men's team consists of many student-athletes in tough majors, including redshirt junior Noah Roberson. A stellar competitor on the squad, Roberson is a double-major in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering. Roberson took 19 credits this past semester, and is also a member of Shreyers Honors College while maintaining his 4.0 GPA. He has earned a number of prestigious academic and athletic awards through the NCAA and Big Ten.   

Out of last semester's 21 male gymnasts, 13 made Dean's List, with many pursuing a number of engineering and pre-med majors.

"Sarah's been a great help with keeping us as a whole and me organized with classes we have to take and being on track towards not only graduating but meeting NCAA requirements and such," Roberson said. "It's good having that resource at your back to kind of make up for any mistake you have."

 

This summer, Roberson has been given the opportunity to work with prosthetics at Stryker, a medical devices and equipment manufacturing company. He hopes this internship will also call upon his gymnastics background and interests. In the past, he has also interned with Delphi Technologies.


"She has access to basically watch what we do and make moves academically," he added. "So, she makes sure we are taking the right classes, make sure we are eligible, she's texting us talking to us when she's see something come up right away. She's been really on top of that."

 

The men's squad isn't the only group with challenging degrees, as the women's team is right there with them.  Amber Autry is a junior majoring in kinesiology, Alissa Bonsall and Tess McCracken are both taking on biomedical engineering, senior Brianna Tsang is a biobehavioral health major, and Kourtney Chinnery studies biology, to name a few.

"Sarah Cowart is a huge part of our team's academic success," Brown said on Cowart with her athletes.  "She assists with scheduling classes around practice time and guides our athlete through the necessary steps to be prepared for graduation. We are so thankful for all that she does."

The student-athletes, both men and women, spend a large amount of their time in Morgan Academic Center, a student-athlete specific study space and academic advising hub, where Cowart is headquartered. The building, which opened up for student-athletes in 2015, houses a team of academic advisors, sports psychologists, and other academic specialists supports all 31 Division I teams at Penn State. The staff's goals are academic preparedness, supporting them day-to-day in and out of the classroom, study skills, what classes will work best with their athletes, etc.

Cowart specifically works with men's soccer, wrestling, and men's and women's gymnastics.

Her role begins as soon as freshmen student-athletes come in, when she meets with them once a week to make sure their schedules work, their time management is under control, and what the semester ahead is looking like. 

McCracken has her hands full between gymnastics and her rigorous major, and the extra help has been huge for her. 

"This semester I'm taking my first biomedical class and it's the hardest class I've ever taken," she said. "The coaches are really accommodating and Sarah was extremely understanding and helpful and just really helped to work around practice to make sure I was focused on school."

Despite having a number of student-athletes under her care, Cowart believes in specialized plans and individualization for each of them.

"Everyone's different when they come in," Cowart said. "Everyone comes in with a different academic background and learning style. When you come in as a student-athlete, I don't think your background and your sport matters specifically, because each student is different, and every case is going to be different."

Through advising, Cowart organizes individualized tutoring programs, where she says that key components include honing in on study skills that a student might have missed in high school or even middle school. She serves as a secondary advisor to each student-athlete's specific college advisor, who focuses on their major specifically. Cowart is their first call if they need anything academically, especially on heavier or more stressful weeks. In addition, she not only helps with major selection for undecided athletes, but also finding what they're passionate about and pushing them towards grad school or a job right after college. 

"Sarah's a much more specific advisor, she's the one that we go to with all of our classes and she helps us organize it around our practice schedule," McCracken said. "She is great with pertaining to the fact that we're student-athletes as well as just students and that's helpful as well. On the team, we all hold each other accountable to make sure that we're completing like we need to. If we miss study hall hours, the whole team is held responsible because we are a team, not just a bunch of individuals. We want everyone to succeed." 

Cowart's mantra is to keep the student-athletes focused, organized, and committed to all their responsibilities, following into graduation time.

 "We know that gymnastics is going to end, so what does that five to ten-year plan look like after gymnastics is over?" Cowart said. "We want to prepare them for making an impact after they walk out the door at Penn State, and it comes down to them as an individual person."

Overall, Cowart is confident in the strong set of gymnasts that she is proud to work with at Penn State.

 "It comes down to the recruiting, the student-athletes we recruit, and what our students stand for and value," Cowart said. "And I highly believe that our students not only value being student-athletes, but also students." 

"They know that not only will they come to Penn State with an amazing athletic experience, but also a Penn State degree," she added.  "As a whole, both gymnastics teams really strive hard to succeed in the classroom. They put in a phenomenal number of hours in study hall, not only completing study hours and homework, but also meeting with tutors and mentors. They really strive to meet their goals and they set the bar high. It comes down to what they want to do in life."

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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - According to the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), athletic trainers are health care professionals who provide prevention, emergency and rehabilitation services for injuries and other medical conditions. The athletic training staff that supports the Penn State men and women's gymnastics teams embody NATA's mission by going above and beyond for the athletes representing the Blue and White.

 

"They are just completely instrumental in our success there's no question," men's gymnastics head coach Randy Jepson said. "I mean every guy right now has something and they put in hours beyond hours and deal with each guy and give them the utmost care. They do just a great job."

 

Meet two of the most pivotal pieces to the Penn State gymnastics programs: athletic trainers Sarah Thompson and Ally Roark.

 

For the past three years, Thompson has been the primary trainer for the female gymnasts who come to Penn State to compete in Rec Hall. This season Thompson treats all 14 gymnasts representing the Blue and White.

 

"It's amazing that we're able to have a full-time, certified athletic trainer with our sport all the time," first year women's head coach Sarah Brown said. "The amount of work that she does, especially behind the scenes, is unmatched to the amount of work any of us do. She puts in more hours than anybody, and she does it with a smile on her face, and she loves it."

 

Thompson is present for every practice, strength and conditioning session, off-day treatment and rehab stint. She also helps ensure hydration and dietary needs are met for each individual gymnast at home and away meets.

 

"I try to make sure they all know that I'm here for them 24 hours a day with regards to anything," Thompson said.

 

Thompson's dedication to the Penn State women's gymnastic team and her connection with the gymnasts stems from her own experiences as a gymnast at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

"One of my favorite parts of the job and the reason why I do this is because when I was an athlete I got injured a lot and was really close with my trainer and having them go through the whole process of getting injured and seeing them go through those ups and downs and getting them back to eventually competing and what they love to do again is the most satisfying feeling," Thompson said.

 

Thompson's understanding of such a physically and mentally demanding sport also helps her to connect and to gain the trust of her athletes.

 

"I just make myself available all the time, and I try to just be myself," Thompson said. "I don't try to be someone that I'm not, and I think they respect that and that's important to them."

 

Her ability to develop these relationships enables a smoother progression of rehabilitation when athletes land devastating injuries. When junior gymnast Amber Autry injured her knee, Thompson not only worked with Autry's physical needs, but also her mental setbacks that follow with any significant injury.

 

"She's literally our second mom and our best friend, all at the same time," Autry said. "We tell her everything that we need to, when we're having problems, and she always helps us through every struggle that we have, and she's always there."

Although her main focus is treating injuries, Thompson finds the most reward in her ability to watch athletes grow and evolve beyond physical setbacks and the mental obstacles that come with being a student-athlete at such a highly-regarded program.

"Every time we get back on the floor after we've been off for a little while, she's one of our number one cheerleaders on the sideline for us, so excited to finally see us be able to do everything we've been wanting to do all season long," Autry said.

Like Thompson, Roark provides the same dedication and support to the men's gymnastic team as the primary athletic trainer for the team of 19. For the entire training year, she is a staple in the gym, at meets, at physician appointments, and throughout any coaches' meetings.

For Roark's daily routine with the team, communication is essential for the highest level of success and production between all parties involved. She provides a platform of moderation between the athletes, coaches, and physicians that visit once or twice a week or even during scheduled appointments where she provides the transportation.

"They correspond with us about all the stuff that is going on a daily basis and they are just a regular part of the staff," Jepson said. "You know there is a lot of decision making that goes on that includes our coaches but always includes our training staff because what they have to say is primary in the welfare of our athletes."

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This emphasis on communication proved vital throughout the rehabbing process of junior Michael Burn's Achilles. When Burns tore his achilles tendon, he not only went through an exhaustive rehabilitation process, he also experienced the emotional impact of sustaining his first major injury. Roark was there every step of the way.

"Gymnastics is a really hard sport," Roark said. "Especially on your body so seeing them go from an injury to progressing through that and being able to go out and compete and seeing them do really well, it's very rewarding knowing you had a part in that."

Roark's dedication to the Penn State men's gymnastic team did not go unnoticed as Burns took it upon himself to pen his athletic trainer a long thank you note for helping him through a difficult setback in his career.

"After nine long months of recovery, I was able to compete full routines on four of the six events," Burns said. "That never would have happened if Ally hadn't been there to keep me on track, I know that would not have been the case. I just wanted to make sure she knew that I appreciate everything she has done for me throughout my recovery."

From preventative exercises months before the season, to rehabbing throughout meets and practices, Thompson and Roark are the glue and stitches behind the scenes that uphold the athletic legacy of the Blue and White that their athletes represent every season.

"They come in freshman year and you see them grow and change and mature, and then they graduate and go onto bigger and better things," Thompson said. "It's just nice knowing that you had such a huge role in that development and growth."

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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."

 

For more information on Nittany Lion men's gymnastics, log onto www.GoPSUsports.com and follow the team on the various social media platforms.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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