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Penn State Athletics THON 2016 Coverage

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IMG_9032.JPGUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Athletics was heavily involved with the 44th IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) held at the Bryce Jordan Center over the weekend.

THON's 708 dancers began standing at 6 p.m. on Friday and did not sit down or sleep until Sunday at 4 p.m. to raise awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer in the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Since 1977, THON has partnered with The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital with one goal in mind: conquering childhood cancer. To date, more than $136 million has been raised by THON. THON revealed a fundraising total of more than $9.7 million for 2016 with 96 percent of THON's all-time funds being donated directly to Four Diamonds. 

Each year, more than 15,000 Penn State student volunteers dedicate their time to THON, making it the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Members of Penn State's Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) were active participants in THON, and led run several fund-raising activities once again this year including sending solicitation letters to friends and family and a lip sync competition. In addition to generating financial support for THON, SAAB also provides emotional support to its THON children, Isabella Messina and Colton Buckley, and their families throughout the year.

Four Penn State student-athletes are represented SAAB as dancers in THON 2016: Liisi Vink-Lainas (Wynantskill, N.Y.) and Angela Widlacki (Naperville, Ill.) of women's soccer, Emily Rivers (Washington, D.C.) from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato (Burke, Va.) from football.

"This means the world to us. As athletes you are given a platform that a normal student might not have," said Zanellato. "It's one of those things that when you come in as a freshman, you know that you will have that platform for a few years. I wanted to make the most of it. I realized that THON was something special to me when I came to Penn State. I wanted to use my platform as best I could."

Additionally, Angela Connors and Jessica Spellman from the Lionettes squad and from Penn State cheerleading Kenny Fuhrman, Paige Gentry, Jordan Hinkle, Kylie Tobasco and Mike White danced in THON.

Within Penn State Athletics, strategic communications student assistants Emily Hesidence and Kate Brandell were also among the dancers at THON, as well.

Check out the extensive coverage from THON 2016 weekend.

Friday - 6 p.m. - THON 2016 Begins
The 46-hour dance marathon kicked off at 6 p.m. on Friday evening when the 708 dancers stood. They will remain on their feet until Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.


Saturday - 9:30 a.m. - Student-Athlete Interviews
With Bryce Jordan Center buzzing with energy during the 16th hour of THON 2016, spent some time with student-athletes and THON dancers Liisi Vink-Lainas  and Angela Widlacki of women's soccer, Emily Rivers, from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato from football. Representing Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), the group is thrilled to carry the Penn State Athletics banner as dancers in the 2016 THON. Take a look at some of their remarks from the floor at the BJC.

THON 2016_Blog 2.jpg
Saturday - 2 p.m. - Football Hosts THON Explorers Event
Approximately 40 members of the Nittany Lion football team welcomed approximately 30 THON Four Diamonds children and their families to a special event inside the Lasch Football Building on Saturday afternoon as part of the THON Explorers program.

The THON event in Lasch is circled on the calendar for the Nittany Lions every year. The THON families gathered inside the home of Penn State football to take photos, get autographs, participate in athletic stations, tour the facility with the Nittany Lions, eat ice cream from the Penn State Creamery and take a group photo.

The Nittany Lions formed a high-five tunnel for the families upon entry into the building before the student-athletes took the families around the football facility. Take a look at the THON Explorers event at the Lasch Football Complex on Saturday.

Football THON Explorers Event

Saturday - 6 p.m. - Student-Athletes Participate in Athlete Hour
Athletes from several teams on campus spent times with the THON Four Diamonds children inside the IM during athlete hour on Saturday.  Here are a few snapshots and video highlights from the event.

Athlete Hour Photo Gallery

Saturday - 11 p.m. - Football Wins Pep Rally Dance Competition
One of the THON highlights every year comes on Saturday night when the teams of Penn State Athletics hop on stage and compete in a dancing competition during the annual pep rally. In all, 12 different teams competed in the 2016 version of the dance-off.

The pep rally included a speech from former Nittany Lion football great Devon Still and his daughter Leah.

As for the dance competition, the football team claimed top honors in the men's side of the action, while the reigning national champion women's soccer team took top honors on the women's side. The two teams then battled in a dance off, with the football team earning the bragging rights as the 2016 THON Pep Rally dancing champion.

We have highlights of every team dancing on Saturday night at THON. 

THON 2016 Pep Rally Photo Gallery

9185732.jpegTHON 2016 Pep Rally Full Dances
Football (Men's & Overall Champion) 
Women's Soccer (Women's Champion)
Men's Fencing
Men's Golf
Men's Gymnastics
Men's Hockey
Men's Rugby
Men's Soccer
Men's Tennis
Men's Volleyball
Field Hockey
Women's Golf
Women's Gymnastics
Women's Hockey
Women's Rugby
Women's Volleyball

Sunday - 11:30 a.m. - VIDEO: Coach Franklin Addresses THON 2016
Head coach James Franklin took the stage of THON 2016 on Sunday morning to urge the dancers on in the final hours of the 46-hour dance marathon.  Franklin's message epitomized what THON's mission has been since it started in 1977.

"This is special. What you guys do is what Penn State is ultimately all about," said Coach Franklin.

Take a look at his full remarks.

James Franklin at THON 2016 Photo Gallery

4:14 p.m. - THON 2016 Raises $9.7 Million
For the second-straight year, THON's fundraising efforts raised more than $9.7 million. The grand total for THON in 2016 was  $9,770,332.32 for fight against pediatric cancer.  Congratulations to everyone involved in THON 2016.  Here is a look at the reveal from Rec Hall prior to Penn State wrestling's bout against Oklahoma State. The Nittany Lion faithful in Rec Hall let out a big cheer as the total was unveiled.


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VIDEO: THON 2016 Pep Rally - Men's Gymnastics

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By Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions will be hitting the road again as Penn State men's gymnastics will be sending three student-athletes to compete in the 2016 Winter Cups in Las Vegas over the weekend.


Representing the Blue and White will be senior Trevor Howard, redshirt-junior Leroy Clarke, Jr. and freshman Michael Burns.


"It's great to always have players in the mix," said head coach Randy Jepson. "It's also a good measuring stick to see where as a coach you are with your guys and trying to pinpoint anything we need to work on still."

The Winter Cup is a two-day competition with some of the best gymnasts in the country competing. Competitors then need to qualify on the first day to advance to the finals.


For Burns, this is his fourth time entering this competition. Although this is his first year with Penn State


"Michael was one of the prominent juniors out there competing and we were lucky enough he committed to Penn State. Although he's not full strength yet due to an injury he's proving to be a great asset to this team," said Coach Jepson.

Burns, who is a Baltimore, Ohio native has been competing in gymnastics for 14 years.


"I started doing gymnastics when I was really young," said Burns. "I would always be at the gym my sister was dancing at, so one day my mom signed me up for a class and I fell in love with the sport."


"I tried out a bunch of sports growing up but never got the same rush of excitement as I did with gymnastics," continued Burns.


Since becoming a Lion, Burns has been a solid competitor for Penn State on the high bars this season. Scoring a career-high of 15.000 while competing at West Point Open.


In addition to the high bars, Burns has competed on pommel horse, still rings, and parallel bars for the Blue and White so far this season.


"Due to a recent injury Michael still isn't at full strength, but is doing an impressive job for someone recovering," said Jepson. "He's a great athlete and passionate about the sport, so I'm excited to see how he competes this weekend and throughout his time here at Penn State."


Like many gymnasts, Burns has taken his love for the sport at a young age and created a lifestyle out of it.  Although he's just a freshman, Burns is realizing how rewarding being a student-athlete can be.


"Being a part of this team has made my transition into college a million times easier," said Burns.


"It's great to have this support system and guys to show me the ropes of college. When I came here I didn't know anything so I'm really thankful for all the upperclassman have taught me both inside and outside the gym," continued Burns.


Balancing both athletic and academic demands, Burns is currently an agricultural major.


"Once I started competing more regularly, I had to learn a very strict work ethic," he said.  "Gymnastics demands a lot of time but I never wanted to let my grades slip so I had to learn time management pretty quickly."


"Although gymnastics is a lot of work, it's also a lot of fun," said Burns.  "I've met some of my best friends through this sport. There's not a lot of people in the United States who compete in gymnastics at a highly-competitive rate so we all have a mutual respect for each other."


Burns will be leaving Happy Valley with Clarke Jr. and Howard to start competing on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 4.p.m. in hopes of making it to the event finals on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 9 p.m.


By Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Freshman Wyatt Tyndall of the Penn State men's gymnastic squad recently left Happy Valley to travel north to Canada to compete in the Elite Canada Artistic Championships in Nova Scotia last weekend.


Originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Tyndall is use to competing in Canada and has already made a name for himself both there and at Penn State.  Before representing the Blue and White, Tyndall was a member of the Canadian National Team and was a three-time Provincial all-around champion.


"He's really developing into a great gymnast," said head coach Randy Jepson. "Whether he's competing for us or internationally, he's always willing to give it his all. I think he's going to do great things here at Penn State but also think it was a good experience for him to compete individually in Canada to see where stacks up."


In the competition Tyndall placed 11th out of 39 gymnasts and despite not winning any medals he returned to State College with valuable experience.


"It was definitely different to compete individually again but I'm excited to be back here with the guys," said Tyndall. "Usually there's my team always cheering me on and yelling while at individual competitions it's always a lot quieter. I love the competitions and both style meets have very different atmospheres.


"Overall I would say it was a great learning experience," continue Tyndall. "Like any competition it had its ups and downs but I got to walk away with more experience and saw what I needed to continue to work on for the season."


Since joining the Nittany Lions, Tyndall has scored a 14.400 on the floor exercises, 14.650 on vault, and 13.900 on the high bars. Going further than his stats, Tyndall is known for his dedication and fearlessness whenever he's training in the gym.


"I think he has a bright future in this sport. One of my favorite things about him is he's brave and always willing to try new routines," said Jepson. In this sport you have to be fearless to be great and I see that in Wyatt when he trains." Although he's just a freshman, he's already showing great progress and potential to be a strong leader for the team.


"One of my favorite things about Wyatt is that he's not only a good athlete but more importantly he's a great human being," he added. "He's always willing to push himself to improvement and is such a joy to be around."


Whether it's for the Blue and White or individually competing in Canada, Tyndall is constantly looking to improve his skills and sharpen his routines.


"I always want to get better with every day I train and it makes it even better when I can help out my team in getting a win," said Tyndall.


Up next for Tyndall and the rest of the Blue and White is an away meet against Big Ten rivals, Ohio State. The Lions will be facing the Buckeyes on Saturday Feb 13, in Columbus, Ohio at 4:00 p.m.


By Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Some leaders use their voices, while others use their skills, but for men's gymnastics team captain Leroy Clarke, Jr. it is all about using his consistent drive for success to lead the Nittany Lions. After walking on the team in 2013, Clarke is now the team captain in his redshirt-junior season


Clarke has scored career bests of 14.900 on the pommel horse, 15.300 on still rings, 15.300 on parallel bars, and an impressive 15.050 on the high bar.


Something that sets Clarke apart is his humble work ethic. Regardless of how he scores, he is always looking for ways to improve and help his team.


"Leroy's been a great kid to work with in terms of his work ethic and how he handles himself," said head coach Randy Jepson."He's such a humble guy and works hard, the kind of guy every coach wants."


"Although he didn't compete that much his first year, it was a blessing in disguise since he was able to develop so much. He simply puts in constant effort and does what he's told and that's why he improved so much,"Jepson continued.


The Maplewood, N.J  native, has been involved with gymnastics ever since he was a little kid. What started off as him having too much energy, quickly turned into a lifetime commitment to the sport.


"I got started when I was about four or five years old and my mom put me in the YMCA then shortly after I got noticed by a club gym coach and I've just been doing it since," said Clarke. "I've been coming to Penn State since high school to compete and I just fell in love with the university and it's always been my first love and just committed myself here."


Before becoming a Nittany Lion, Clarke trained at Surgent's Elite Gymnastics for club. Competing since his was a young child, Clarke says it's the rush of landing his routines and flipping through the air that attracted him to the sport.


"I love being active and flipping, but the best is the adrenaline rush of learning a new skill," said Clarke. "It's such a great feeling knowing you landed a difficult routine, off that one of my favorite things about gymnastics is the competition."


"Showing everyone what you've been working hard at all year is an incredible thing," he added.  "It's your time to show everyone how hard you've been working and your dedication to the sport."


Although Clarke isn't the loudest on the team, he is always trying to set a positive example for his teammates and cheers them on.


"Gymnastics is unique, although it's only you performing you have an entire team routing for you," said Clarke. "I know I always have my teammates and I want to make them proud and help as much as I can."


So far Penn State men's gymnastic team stands at 7-1 and 1-1 in the Big Ten Conference.


Up next Clarke and the rest of the Blue and White hit the road to Ohio State University on Saturday, Feb. 13 to face the Buckeyes at 4 p.m.


By Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -The Penn State men's gymnastics team returned to Rec Hall on Saturday, January 30 to top the University of Illinois in a 430.200-429.200 victory. The Nittany Lions were also able to earn four season-best scores on the floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings and parallel bars.

In the nail-biter of a meet, junior Dominic DiFulvio was scored a career-best of 85.500 and earn his second career all-around title to help the Blue and White notch the win.

"We grew up today," stated Head Coach Randy Jepson. "We knew it would be a hard fought contest. After last weekend's frustrations and sub-par performance I was really looking forward to the guys coming out within a week and having an opportunity to fight and show the kind of spirit they had. I think they did that today so I'm very pleased." 

Taking the lead early, Penn State performed well on floor exercise with DiFulvio and senior Alexis Torres' performances giving the Blue and White the jump in scores.

"We have our bad days and we have our good days, but today I would definitely say was a good day for the team," said Torres. "We all just came out focused on performing at our best levels and today we were focused on hitting our routines. Today was a good win for the team."

Following the floor, the Lions posted another season-best on the pommel horse with a score of 70.300 as a team. Helping the team hit this score was junior, team captain Leroy Clarke, Jr. and sophomore Colin Coates. In addition, junior Christian McSwain helped with a score of 14.550.

"Everyone did a great job today," commented Jepson. They all were focused and looked strong during routines, these guys are hungry for the win and they fought for it today."

During the third rotation, the Fighting Illini took the lead by sweeping the first three spots on the vault. 

Penn State earned its third-season-best score of the afternoon on the still rings with a 72.650 in the third rotation. DiFulvio and Clarke placed second and third, respectively, to help bring the Lions back into the competition.

"We always want to be each other's biggest support so we're always cheering one another on, "noted Torres. "We had some people give standout performances today and we always make sure we're there for one another as a team."

Penn State took the lead back during the fifth rotation with another season-best score on parallel bars. Clarke and Torres led the Nittany Lions, tying for first with matching 15.050s. 

Continuing to hit his routines, Clarke, Jr. earned his second title of the day with his high bar performance, scoring a 14.400. 

In the end of close match, Penn State Nittany Lions clinched the win by defeating the Fighting Illini by a one-point difference. 

Up next for Penn State will be a weeklong rest before heading to Columbus, Ohio for a meet against the Buckeyes of Ohio State. With the first Big Ten Conference victory under the Lions belt, they'll remain focused for OSU.

The Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes square off Saturday, Feb. 13 at 4 p.m.


By Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Penn State men's gymnastics carries on their regular season, the Nittany Lions enter their second home match on Saturday, January 30 against Illinois.


The Blue and White defeated Army to kick off its season before earning a first-place finish at the West Point Open.  Although the team suffered a step back against Minnesota, the boys are focused and determined as the season continues.


The 2016 men's gymnastics squad is a mix of veteran and newcomers who all are determined to keep the team focused on the goals set in front of them.


"I think one of the biggest goals for the team this season is to win both NCAA and Big Ten's," stated Dominic DiFulvio. "As a team, we want to win back-to-back Big Ten championships, which has never been done before during my time here at Penn State."


DiFulvio is a junior and leader on the team. The New York native has been on the team since his freshman year in 2014, and since joining the Blue and White he has become an all-around competitor


As one of the veterans, DiFulvio consistently aims to inspire the rest of his teammates to achieve their personal goals to help better the team as a whole.


"One thing I'm looking forward to is competing in as many meets as I can this season," said DiFulvio. "I really enjoy doing all the different type of events at competitions so I'm going to keep working towards this goal to help the team out. Each event demands a certain amount of focus and body training so I want to make sure I can perform them all and be as beneficial to my team as possible," he continued.


With the physical demands of the sport, several of the guys on the team are focusing on getting healthy to compete again.


"A challenge our team is facing right now is getting everyone healthy enough to compete, it's important we all take care of ourselves so we can continue to take on the season together," said DiFulvio. "Although some of our guys are hurt, it does allow some new faces to get in the competition and that'll help build their self-esteem while competing, which can help us in the future."


This season the Lions will only be hosting three meets, forcing the Blue and White to adjust to being on the road most of the regular season.


"Although it can be tough to always be traveling, being on the road is always a fun time with the team," said DiFulvio.  "Whenever the team travels it brings everyone closer and being close with the team makes those trips even more fun. We're all really close so whenever we're on the road like we are majority of this season the bus rides become fun and we're always playing games and talking to one another while traveling."


After hosting Illinois this upcoming Saturday, the Blue and White will be on the road until the team hosts Nebraska on March 11.


Be sure to keep an eye out on the Nittany Lions as the men's gymnastics team conquers the difficulty of being on the road in hopes to make history with back-to-back Big Ten titles. 

Gene Wettstone and Gymnastics Success Recognized in Facility Upgrades

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IMG_5617.JPGBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "Throughout his 36 year coaching tenure, Gene Wettstone achieved an unmatched level of success. His dedication to his student-athletes, Penn State, and the sport of gymnastics established him as a pillar among his peers. In honor of his outstanding contributions as coach, mentor, and friend, this facility proudly bears his name."

Those are the words engraved in the gymnastics practice facility located inside the White Building, now named the 'Gene Wettstone Gymnastics Complex,' to honor the history of Wettstone and both the men's and women's gymnastics programs.

Wettstone was a legendary Penn State men's gymnastics coach. He brought Penn State and collegiate gymnastics to the forefront by leading the Nittany Lions to nine NCAA championships (the most by any men's gymnastics coach), 13 Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League victories, more than 200 meet wins, 35 individual national titles, 13 Olympians and three Nissen-Emery honorees.

He left a mark on Penn State that could never be forgotten, and that is now displayed in tremendous fashion at the facility.

Before fully entering the gymnastics complex, curved trophy cases, with blue light glowing from the top and the bottom, can now be seen on both sides. The left side features the achievements of women's gymnastics and the right side shows the numerous accolades of men's gymnastics.

When walking towards the complex, a picture of Wettstone and a short biography of him can be seen. In the complex, on the right wall, images of past men gymnasts are shown alongside the number of Olympians, team national championships and individual national championships. There are also displays for the Nissen-Emery Award winners. Down the hallway are two displays of the individual national champions as well as the Olympians.

"It's just nice to be able to have our story in a visual way now for people to really see and understand," said men's gymnastics head coach Randy Jepson. "We couldn't do that before; we could talk about it, but there was no real visual way to do that, where people could really grasp the success of the program. It's unprecedented the NCAA record of individual titles and team titles, much less the Olympians and the international success that Penn State has developed."

But this renovation does not just inspire visitors, it encourages the current team, too.

"[The team and I] talk about the legacy and the standard of what Gene established and what we want to see continue here, and they walk by it every day. It's a constant reminder of the standard that they're to aspire to," said Jepson. "When you walk into the gym, you see 12 Championship banners for the NCAA and three Big Ten banners. My reminder to them is that it's not the banners hanging there, it's the empty space on the wall. The guys that were outside on the wall earned honors, like the Nissen-Emery or Olympian or a national champion. They are the standard, and you can't walk by that without being inspired and motivated."

On the left side of the complex, the women's gymnastics program is featured. The left wall shows the number of All-Americans, team national championships and national championship appearances seen throughout its history. The individual champions and the female gymnasts that earned a perfect 10.0 score are also honored.

The current women's gymnastics roster is presented on the side wall where each gymnast's individual headshots, name and hometown is shown.

"When you want teams to win championships, you need to treat them like champions. If they feel like  a champion, then they are more likely to perform like champions," said women's gymnastics head coach Jeff Thompson. "So the first day, when the team all rounded the corner saw their headshots out there, you should have heard them...They all had a sense of Penn State pride."

Both programs feature a rich history of success on the competition floor and in the classroom. Donations and fundraising efforts made the enhancements possible.

"That says a lot. That the donors were willing to do that and to give the money and recognize the women's achievements even though we've only been around since the early '60s," said Thompson. "We don't have the long history that the men have, but there are a lot of good things that happened here. For them to give that much money so we can look equal is awesome."

Two years ago, when Wettstone was approaching 100 years old, fellow alumni, especially Ira Stolzer, co-captain of the 1976 national champion men's gymnastics team, wished to create something to honor Wettstone's legacy as well as the future of the men's gymnastics program.

Stolzer and all the captains from the Varsity 'S' Club led the fundraising efforts for the department and renovation. In only 90 days, Stolzer and the committee were able to raise nearly $500,000 from former Penn State gymnasts and former Penn State gymnasts' families and friends. Wettstone passed in July, 2013, less than one month after turning 100.

"Ira Stolzer has just been a tremendous guy to our team and our program here," said Jepson. "He's really done a lot for Penn State, and this is the guy that could do anything he wants, and he puts a lot of effort into this. We're fortunate for him."

There were numerous people that stepped up to help with the program and some names are included on a plaque in the Gene Wettstone Gymnastics Complex.

"It's just great to be able to showcase [all the accomplishments], and be able to have that support from our alumni," said Jepson. "We're very gracious and appreciative of what they have done. They've just been very gracious with their gifts, and it's really a real tribute to Gene...There's a lot of people that contributed to make this happen, and it just really makes a statement about how they feel about Gene and how he made an impact on the individuals when he was here."

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VIDEO: 2014-15 Year in Review with Sandy Barbour

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - talks with Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour to review a superb 2014-15 season for Penn State Athletics.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: 2014-15 Season Highlights

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's 2014-15 season was one marked by excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community. takes a look back at the campaign in a season highlight reel.


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