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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. 

By Tom Shively, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - One of the unique aspects of NCAA gymnastics is the team component, something most gymnasts aren't used to when they first arrive on campus. While they eventually learn to adapt to a more team-first approach, individual performance nonetheless finds itself at the forefront of several athletes' minds.

For one weekend, four Penn State gymnasts will have a chance to relive their junior days of old competition. The Winter Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada gives these gymnasts an opportunity to take a step back and approach their meet from a more personal angle, something they may not be able to do during team competition. Some of the gymnasts view this as a blessing, as they can go back and make some tweaks to their usually consistent routines. 

"This competition is unattached to the team," senior Leroy Clarke said. "I can get a chance to try new things, maybe add a new skill here or there. It's not something that would affect the team, more so just me. I can also try different psychological things. I'm always thinking about different ways in which I can personally improve my performance, and this is a perfect competition where I can go ahead and experiment."

Clarke and sophomore Michael Burns will both be making their second appearance at Winter Cup, and things are sure to be more familiar this time around.

"I'm more excited now that I know what's to be expected of me out there," Clarke said. "I know the environment is very different. It kind of brings me back to the days back in high school where everything was more individualized. I have a sense of how the travel and accommodations are going to be and I'm probably going to be jet-lagged for some time, but I'm excited because I have a better sense of how to prepare myself."

Clarke competed in three events at the Winter Cup last year, while Burns competed on five.

For Dominic DiFulvio and Favian Valdez, this year will mark their first appearance in blue and white at the Winter Cup. Valdez was invited last year as a Junior Olympian while he was still in high school, but wasn't able to compete due to a hand injury.

 "This is sort of like a redemption shot," Valdez said. "I want to prove myself and I want to do well for myself and the team. Even though it's individual, I'm still supporting Penn State." 

Winter Cup also gives these guys a chance to be around some of the best in the business, as this event brings U.S. Olympians, top college performers, as well as the top juniors all to the same stage.

There can certainly be pressure in that sort of situation, but it's also an opportunity for these gymnasts to showcase themselves around the highest level of competition.

"It's great to see them in person and compete with them," Valdez said. "They're at a really high level, and I'm not there yet, but they encourage me to get better and get to that level. It's definitely a chance to get my name out there and show that I can do well with big guys." 

"I've gone to two competitions like this, and to be alongside them feels truly amazing," Clarke said. "It also keeps me grounded in a way and it really empowers me to keep pushing forward. It's definitely a great experience having them there and getting to know them too."

 Clarke, Valdez, Burns and DiFulvio will all head to Las Vegas this weekend for the competition, beginning on Feb. 16 and ending two days later. The Nittany Lions resume competition as a team on Feb. 25 at Navy.

VIDEO: Lee and Clarke Talk Black History Month

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the second of a three-part video series, Penn State women's volleyball student-athlete Simone Lee sits down with men's gymnastics student-athlete Leroy Clarke to talk Black History Month and diversity throughout the entire Penn State Athletics community.

Throughout the entire month of February, Penn State Athletics is proudly sharing the stories of its African American student-athletes and coaches who have helped shape Nittany Lion history. View more here.



By Tom Shively, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - In a sport such as gymnastics, it's not always about the final score. It's a competition to prove yourself, and the Nittany Lions were a perfect example of that on Saturday afternoon in Rec Hall.

Although Penn State came up short against the Ohio State Buckeyes by less than two points, 419.150-417.750, the Nittany Lions made a statement to themselves and the rest of the country that this team will be a threat every night moving forward.

"These guys should feel very confident," head coach Randy Jepson said. "They [Ohio State] have a couple national team guys on their team, guys that have been on the junior team before. We just went toe-to-toe with them and I'm really thrilled with the heart that our guys showed. We didn't win on the scoreboard, but we won a lot in our own hearts today."

One of the bright spots for Penn State was freshman Sam Zakutney, who put together career-high routines on parallel bars and high bar, as well as beating his previous all-around high score by almost two whole points. 

After a near-perfect performance on the high bar, Zakutney crisply stuck his landing and flexed in celebration as he knew he had nailed his routine.  It was the final performance of the day, and Zakutney's reaction was about more than just killing his routine.

"I was absolutely blown away," Zakutney said on what was going through his mind the moment he celebrated. "So much tension throughout those entire two hours of competing completely let loose all at once, and it was the best feeling ever." 

Zakutney was the only gymnast on either team to compete in all six events, something that didn't phase him in the slightest, especially in the final two rotations. Fatigue would have set in for most people, but Zakutney pushed through and earned the aforementioned career highs. 

"I definitely tried to embrace the amount of positive vibes in the competition area," Zakutney said. "It usually puts me down because I feel like I have more pressure on myself, but today I just trusted my ability and used my good teammates to help me through." 

Dominic DiFulvio also put together a strong performance for the Lions, putting up the highest score on the team in rings and on the floor exercise. Despite the success, he still wasn't pleased with his overall day, citing consistency as something he needs to work on going forward. 

"I thought my performance was okay, floor definitely wasn't my best showing," DiFulvio said. "I guess I just kind of got the jitters out there, which was not normal. I thought [rings] went really well, just have to work on landings in the gym." 

Despite knowing there are areas to improve, overall the team is confident moving forward. 

More than anything, the performance gave the team some swagger moving forward, knowing they can compete with some of the best athletes in the nation. The Nittany Lions may still be raw, but they are certainly setting themselves up for success in the future.

"I told the guys, today it didn't matter if we won or lost," DiFulvio said. "I was absolutely thrilled with the way we all competed because we had been doing that in the gym and we hadn't shown it yet. It was great to be able to show that and let the country know that we are up there with the best." 

"We hit [our routines] and we were really close," Zakutney said. "It shows every other team in the NCAA we're fighters. Watch out. You don't underestimate Penn State."

The Nittany Lions will try to maintain their high level of competition next weekend as they head to the Winter Cup in Las Vegas.


By Tom Shively, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The life of a college athlete is certainly never easy, especially when it comes to health. However, for Penn State sophomore gymnast Michael Burns, the journey back to form is much more important than the struggle.

When he first arrived on campus Burns didn't compete in every event he wanted to, needing to recover fully from a knee injury before he felt comfortable again in all events. It took almost all of his freshman season, but he was finally able to take part in every event by the time the 2016 Big Ten championships came around. 

"That kept me out of floor and vault for the most part," Burns said. "I wasn't competing in everything but I was training in everything, so it wasn't much of a difference. Now I definitely feel the effect of doing all of the events every weekend on my body." 

Back for his second season, Burns has stepped into a much different role, serving more as a guide now to his younger teammates. The pressure is certainly higher, but he feels that it's much easier to help out the team when he is training the younger guys.

"This year I just feel like I know what's going on more," Burns said. "It's been helping me to try to help the freshmen, so I kind of figure out what I'm doing and then I can help them with their stuff. Last year, everyone else was trying to help me and it made me think of myself too much. When you go out there and compete for the team, it's a lot bigger than just yourself. But, when you know you have the rest of the team backing you, it also makes it [the pressure] a lot greater."

"Physically, he's much more prepared this year," head coach Randy Jepson said. "He needed some work in terms of his strength and body tension, and all that work is paying off. We're seeing really clean gymnastics from Michael. The other thing is that he's become much more stable and confident. We didn't really have that last year, and part of that is the physical work he's done in preparation for the season. We've really seen him step up and hit a lot of routines for us." 

The injury can still nag Burns from time to time, but he understands the importance of pushing through for the team and staying persistent.

"I know the team needs me, so I'm just working through it as much as I can," Burns said. "I do enough during the week so I can be confident in myself on the weekend, but I don't do too much where it kills my back. The hardest thing has been learning when to stop and when to push through."

Burns certainly has pushed through at the right times, earning a top three finish in pommel horse and vault in the team's most recent meet at Illinois. He also put up three career-high scores earlier this season at the West Point Open, in floor exercise, parallel bars, and the all-around.

"The watershed moment for me was the West Point Open," Jepson said. "He's had a lingering back problem and even going into that meet was iffy and he hadn't done a lot of floor routines, but he hit every routine beautifully. This past weekend, in all but one event he was within one point of his start values. So he's doing really clean stuff and when you do that, you score well. That's kind of the motto we want our team to follow: It doesn't matter what happens, just finish within a point of your start value. If you can do that, stay on the event, we're going to be competitive with anybody."

Coming off the recent success, Burns has his goals set high for both himself and the team, understanding the potential within this group of guys.

"Honestly, I'd like to win a Big Ten and NCAA championship. Personally would be pretty cool, but I think that team ring would be awesome." 

The next step of that journey comes this Saturday against Ohio State in the second double-dual meet of the season. The meet is set to start at 4 p.m. inside Rec Hall.


By Tom Shively, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - For so many freshmen, heading off to college for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. For Penn State men's gymnastics' Stephen Nedoroscik, that was the easy part.

"I adapted to college life really quickly. That didn't take long," Nedoroscik said. "Adjusting to college competitions on the other hand, took me a couple weeks to get into it."

 Of course, Nedoroscik had the added advantage of being surrounded by teammates who walked a very similar path. All of them have been together since summer workouts, making the transition to college and competition much smoother. 

"I got a lot of tips from the coaches and other teammates and I think what they told me really helped me," Nedoroscik said.

Like his teammate Favian Valdez, Nedoroscik gained interest in gymnastics at a very young age, as it was a way for him to release all his pent up energy. His parents saw potential in that, and they decided together that it was something they could pursue.

"As a kid, I would always climb everything, and my mom thought it was a sign that I should go into gymnastics," Nedoroscik said. "I used to grab on to edges of a wall and I would all the way up. I was like a year old."

He hasn't stopped since, as Nedoroscik was able to work his way through the junior ranks and obtain a college scholarship. Now that he is at Penn State, he is making the most of his opportunity and excelling in his main event: pommel horse. 

A native of Worcester, Mass., Nedoroscik had a chance to have a homecoming of sorts last weekend as Penn State traveled to Springfield College, very close to Nedoroscik's home. He put on a fantastic show in front of his friends and family, winning the individual pommel horse title, his first as a Nittany Lion.

"It was really exciting, I'm glad they all got to see me so early in the season," Nedoroscik said. "This was the only meet that a lot of them are going to be able to go to, and I was able to hit it the first time."

"I think for him, he just felt really comfortable," head coach Randy Jepson said. "He'd been in that gym before, competed on that pommel horse before, so that was nice for him to have a chance to do that."

Despite his success, Nedoroscik, his teammates, and the coaching staff understand there is and always will be room for improvement, something that pushes Nedoroscik every day.

"[The upperclassmen] are really motivating," Nedoroscik said. "They're not hard on you if you mess up and that really helps me adjust quicker to the meets. I messed up the first and second meets, but they weren't hard on me about it. They just gave me a lot of tips and it really helped me adjust." 

"It's been a good adjustment for him, but he's put a little too much pressure on himself in terms of expectations," Jepson said. "We just want him to go out and have fun and hit routines. It doesn't have to be perfect every time. I think he's going to start to build and get more comfortable and really jump up in the stats, but we're just concerned that he gets into a groove. If he does that, we know he can do great things." 

Focusing on only one event has allowed Nedoroscik to concentrate all his efforts toward perfecting his pommel horse routine, something that he hopes will translate to huge success down the road. He is only a freshman, but the man is not afraid to dream big.

"I'm just going to keep that same mindset going into my routine. I want to be able to replicate what I did last weekend every time, especially this upcoming weekend," Nedoroscik said. 

"Personally, I'd love to take the NCAA title on pommel horse."


By Tom Shively, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - From a young age, Penn State freshman gymnast Favian Valdez was a natural gymnast. Going all the way back to his playground days, Valdez referred to himself as a wild kid, racing around the monkey bars and swinging all over the place.

He chose gymnastics as a way to harness all the pent up energy inside him, and his original inspiration came from an unlikely source. 

"When I was young, I was very hyper," Valdez said. "My dad would take me to the park and there was this one stranger that went up to my dad and asked if I was in gymnastics. He [Valdez's father] said no and he said, 'You should consider it.' So one day, my dad put me in gymnastics class and I ended up loving it. I've been doing it ever since." 

The individual nature of a sport such as gymnastics allows little time for team development especially on the highly-competitive junior circuit. For Valdez, this doesn't seem to have been much of a problem, as he has been a three-time member of the Junior Olympic National Team, winning the national championship in vault and the all-around in 2014.

In college, however, the focus is much more on collective success and doing whatever you can to help the team win. 

"My freshmen understand that there's a responsibility that's on them," head coach Randy Jepson said. "Some of them take it too heavily to where they're a little intimidated to let anybody down. That's a common thing with young guys but we'll hopefully get through that." 

With an increased team aspect comes more focus and desire for Valdez, knowing that he has to devote much more of his time to be up to par with the elite guys in the gym. Just as any athlete, he wants to be the best and he uses those around him to motivate him. He finds a huge source of motivation from his teammates both in and out of the gym. 

"All my teammates are super supportive," Valdez said. "They help me not just in the gym but outside too. They help me with school and the older guys are really supportive."

The motivation has paid off, as Valdez now has won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors in back-to-back weeks. This award comes on the heels of three top-five finishes in the Nittany Lions' most recent meet, including an individual title on pommel horse.

"I heard Trevor [Howard] got a few of them, maybe six or seven," Valdez said. "I'm actually looking forward to trying to break that. It does give me confidence because I was a little nervous at first but I killed it last week and I did pretty well again this weekend." 

"He's a really solid competitor, and we knew that he could compete at a high level coming in," Jepson said. "He's done that for years as a junior national competitor and it's good to have a guy who's seasoned that way. As his fitness and body develop, his skill level will expand and he'll be able to compete at a higher level."

Throughout his career prior to Penn State, Valdez was one of the highest rated prospects in the country, naturally leading to several Division I scholarship offers from some of the top schools for gymnastics. When it came time to make a decision, however, Valdez was very confident in his choice.

"Why wouldn't I come here?" Valdez said, "I mean, it's amazing. You have great facilities, great academics. Overall, it's the best I think."

Now that he's here, Valdez doesn't shy away from a challenge, particularly on the toughest event, which also happens to be his favorite: pommel horse. 

"It's the hardest event for most guys," Valdez said. "I struggled with it first but I kept practicing it like crazy and now it's my best event."

 He certainly has a great claim to the pommel horse as he has finished first and second in his first two meets in that event.

Valdez and the Nittany Lions are back in action Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. when they travel to Springfield College.

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By Tom Shively, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - In front of a large crowd at Rec Hall, the Penn State men's gymnastics team put on a show, taking down Army West Point for the team's second overall victory in as many meets. Senior captain Dominic DiFulvio led the charge, taking two individual titles on rings and vault as well as achieving the highest all-around score among the two teams. 

Just as any great athlete, DiFulvio still looked for things to improve even after his success on Saturday.

"I definitely liked the way that I just kept my head up," DiFulvio said. "Floor didn't exactly go the way I planned and neither did pommel horse, but like I said, I needed to buckle down and get the rest of this done. I was proud about that."

Head coach Randy Jepson had nothing but praise for DiFulvio, whose gutsy upperclassman effort was one of the main reasons why the Nittany Lions got the win.

"It's the difference between a freshman and a senior," Jepson said. "Really steady, confident and experienced. Even though Dom didn't feel that great, he put in a great meet and did his job, so I was pleased with him."

The atmosphere played a huge part in the success of the team, as one of the biggest crowds in recent memory came out to support the Nittany Lions. The volume of the crowd was aided in large part by the fact that the meet was a double dual, also including the Penn State women's team and its matchup against Maryland.

"This was amazing, I don't think we've ever had as many people here before," DiFulvio said. "It was pretty awesome to be home and have it be that loud in there. I thought it was great for our guys because it's normally not loud in the dual meets. But when we get to Big Tens and NCAAs, it gets really loud so I want them to get that type of experience." 

"It's nice to compete in front of the home fans," Jepson said. "[The Army coach] agreed to change our warmup time up so we could finish more on time with our women's team and it worked pretty well. I think from a fan's standpoint; it was a better show than we've done in some years." 

The Nittany Lions were dominant on parallel bars as well, tallying the top six scores, ahead of every single competitor for Army.

"It's definitely one of our strong areas," DiFulvio said. "We have a lot of guys that competed last year that are back here now. Also, Wyatt [Tyndall] was a bright point today. He hasn't really shown us that in practice, so it was awesome to see that today. I was really proud of him. I'm hoping that he can keep that up and continue that during practice." 

"It was okay, it's not nearly what we can do," Jepson said. "We may have placed well, but it's not about placing. It's about performance, and our performances need to improve. Second meet out, we've still got a lot of work to do, but I'm hoping the jitters can subside as we go a couple more meets into the season. It's going to get more difficult when we go into Big Ten season: more tough teams."

Favian Valdez also had a strong day as well for the Nittany Lions, taking home the top overall score in pommel horse a week after finishing second in that event at the West Point Open. 

"Favian is right there behind [DiFulvio], he just needs a little more fine-tuning and to make some changes in training and translate that to what he does in competition."

The Nittany Lions' next meet is at Springfield College in Massachusetts on Jan. 29. They return home to take on Ohio State Feb. 11 in another double dual with the women's team.

By Tom Shively, 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. Favian Valdez Leads a Stellar Freshman Class 

The Nittany Lions took four individual titles, including a victory for Valdez in the floor exercise, 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."

 4. Captain Dominic DiFulvio, Other Seniors Preparing for Final Season 

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.

By Tom Shively, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The calendar has turned to 2017, and that means the Nittany Lions are finally ready to start their regular season. They open up this weekend at the West Point Open, an event they have won 18 times in 25 trips, and they appear locked in and cohesive as final adjustments are underway.

The Nittany Lions have won the event three straight times under head coach Randy Jepson, who liked to keep his message concise heading into the season-opening meet. He emphasized consistency and health as two of the major keys this weekend in order for the team to have success. 

"Number one, you've got to walk in healthy and walk out healthy," Jepson said. "Number two, you want to be solid and consistent that first meet so you can get some momentum heading into the rest of the season. I think we're prepared to do that." 

Despite the recent successes at West Point, this team has taken a one-step-at-a-time mentality, trying to build a solid foundation for the rest of the season. 

"Every season is different and every meet is different," Jepson said. "These guys are prepared to do a good job getting started here. The nice thing is that we will be facing a couple solid teams in Nebraska and the eastern teams here as well. Arizona State is going to be out there so it'll be a little different flavor than it is usually, and our guys are excited about that." 

Along with Nebraska and Arizona State, the West Point Open will host Temple, Navy, and Springfield College, as well as Army, the team putting on the event.

"We don't face any Big Ten teams for a couple weeks here still, so we won't get a real test for where we are with the rest of the conference until later," Jepson said. "But this will certainly give us some momentum heading into those meets." 

The rotation order has been set for the meet and has the Nittany Lions starting on the high bar and having a second-rotation bye. They will then compete in the floor exercise and pommel horse before a second and final bye. The team finishes up on still rings, vault and parallel bars in that order. 

Five Penn State freshmen will be appearing in their first career meet and we can already expect to see some big things from them based on the impact they have had since arriving on campus this past summer. 

"I'm looking forward to seeing our freshmen and seeing how they perform as a team," Jepson said. "Those guys haven't been on a team mix before because they competed as individuals all through their career until they get to college. So watching them step into a meet where their teammates are counting on them, it's a little extra weight on their shoulders to know that they have to carry their load and I'm looking to see how they respond to that." 

The Nittany Lions were picked to finish fourth out of seven Big Ten teams in the preseason poll, something Jepson casually pushed aside as something to which nobody on the team feels the need to react. 

"I don't care about it at all. We don't worry about that. We've been ranked down so far many times, he said.  "One year we were ranked sixth and we were national champions. You've got to do the job every day and the last day is when it counts, so we want to aim for that last day."

Perhaps a similar story could be unfolding for this year's squad, all starting this weekend in New York.


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