By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA-- Sophomore all around gymnast Alexis Torres is making his family and friends proud from 1,700 miles away. This past weekend the Catano, Puerto Rico, native earned his career-high score in the floor exercise, on still rings, and on the pommel horse.
"It's sometimes hard [being away from home], but I know my family is looking out for me, and my friends, too. They are so proud of me," Torres said. "I just keep going because I know they are going to be proud of me and that's the only thing that I want to do."
His family was his biggest influence in becoming a gymnast. At age six, Torres' parents put him in gymnastics classes. He loved it right from the start and kept going ever since. Making his family proud is a main motivator for him.
Performance is also a motivator for Torres. If he has fun and does the things he does in practice everyday, he knows that he will perform well.
"I don't even think about it. I just do it, because I already know how. The thing that motivates me is doing well. But even if I don't do well, I know that I am going to do well the next time," Torres said.
While in high school, Torres met a few of the gymnasts on the Penn State men's gymnastics team at a competition in Puerto Rico. After meeting them and being recruited by head coach Randy Jepson, he knew Penn State was the college for him.
"I wasn't really thinking about going to the states, but Randy recruited me. I didn't even [look at] other universities," Torres said.
Torres' time as a Penn State gymnast has been a positive experience for him. He said that the team is like a family.
"We motivate ourselves, we keep each other going, and we keep our heads up," Torres said. "If we see somebody that's feeling down, we just say, 'Don't worry about it, it's just a bad day, everybody has that.'"
In his second year as a Penn State gymnast, Torres has already led the team in several meets. In the meet last weekend against No. 15 Temple, Torres placed first in the floor exercise with a score of 15.300. He also finished second on the still rings, scoring a 15.400.
Torres said he was happy with his performance against Temple because his performance resembled how he practiced the week before. Torres said he hopes to continue performing how he practices in the coming meets.
He will have the chance to see if his performance resembles his practice again this weekend when the No. 7 Nittany Lions take on Illinois on Saturday in their first Big Ten meet of the season.
As a team, Illinois is ranked fifth in the coaches poll. Individually, three Illinois gymnasts hold number one spots in event rankings. Sophomore Fred Hartville holds the number one spot on vault with a 15.233. Red shirt sophomore C.J. Maestas holds the number one spot on rings with a 16.000. Senior Jordan Valdez holds the number one spot on high bar with a 15.450.
Saturday's meet in Rec Hall at 4 pm is a double dual. The No. 21-ranked women's gymnastics team will also be competing against the 15th-ranked Illinois women's gymnastics team.
Recently in Men's Gymnastics Category
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Saturday's contest at Rec Hall was unique with both Penn State's men's and women's gymnastics teams competing together. As both teams made their way out onto the mat, they engaged the crowd in the infamous "WE ARE" cheer. The women took on the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the men battled it out with the Temple Owls.
Men's Team is Victorious in Contest
The Nittany Lions have been consistent across the board when it comes to putting up points. From their season-opener at Army to this Saturday's contest against Temple, the men's gymnastics team has achieved scores in the 420 to 430 range. This weekend was no different; the Nittany Lions bested Temple 431.550 to 401.600.
Head coach Randy Jepson spoke to his team's resilience during the season thus far, as many have had to step up to the plate due to teammates' injuries.
"We have been pretty beat up and injured," said Jepson. "We had to call on guys who may not normally compete in a certain event. They were tested and they stepped up to the plate today."
Coach Jepson believes that part of his team's success is due to the contributions of the unsung heroes.
"We are lucky to have guys like Jeremy Munn and Tristan Duverglas," said Jepson. "They really stepped up today."
Munn is a freshman walk-on who was called on this Saturday to fill spots on the floor and vault. He scored 14.500 points for the Nittany Lions on floor and 14.200 points on the vault.
Duverglas placed first on vault with 15.500 points, a performance that Jepson says, "you would see in the finals of the World Championships."
Coach Jepson was thoroughly impressed with the performance of sophomore Alexis Torres. Torres won the floor event with a score of 15.300.
"He is very talented," said Jepson of Torres's performance. "Today was the first time I saw him compete the way he has trained. His scores can only go up from here."
And then there is Trevor Howard...
The sophomore has been the most consistent performer for the Nittany Lions. Howard competes in all but one event. He put up big numbers on parallel bars (15.150) and vault (14.800) against Temple this Saturday.
"I love competing in double duals," said Howard. "The girls are always extremely supportive and its great to see all of the fans and my family come out."
When Howard stepped out to compete in his high bar rotation, he was the only gymnast on the mat. In what was a chaotic atmosphere for most of the double dual, Rec Hall was silent as they watched Howard put up 14.550 points on the high bar.
"High bar was definitely my best even today," said Howard. "I have been working really hard on it in practice. To be able to come out today, stick the landing and give the crowd a show was awesome."
But, being the last to compete is a challenge that Howard welcomes with open arms, as he uses that pressure as preparation for National Team tryouts.
"I try to build off these types of settings and set higher goals for myself," said Howard. "Coach Jepson has me go last to help me prepare for those pressure sets."
Rec Hall's competitive setting isn't just for teams, but for siblings, too
Penn State's women's gymnastics' Krystal Welsh was especially excited for Saturday's double dual. She not only got compete in front of her parents, but she had the rare opportunity of sharing the mat with her brother and Temple Owl, Jakob Welsh.
"I was so excited to see him compete," said Jakob Welsh. "He was the first person I looked for when I walked on the mat. We both made all-around so that makes me really happy."
Krystal Welsh finished second for Penn State, and fourth in the all-around and Jakob Welsh finished first for Temple.
Season best score gives Nittany Lions hope, despite loss to Nebraska
No. 23 Penn State's women's gymnastics put up a fight against No. 8 Nebraska this Saturday in the double dual. Despite season best score of 196.150, the Nittany Lions fell short of the Cornhuskers' score of 197.225.
Head Coach Jeff Thompson isn't going to let this tough loss hold his team back from improvement. His coaching staff and team will look at the positives.
"We knew we had our work cut out for us heading into today's meet," said Thompson. "We got off to a great start of vault, but I think we got a little too excited."
The Nittany Lions gave the Cornhuskers a run for their money on vault, especially with the performance of freshman Emma Sibson. Sibson tied Nebraska's Jessie DeZiel with a score of 9.950.
"Today I was focused on staying relaxed," said Sibson. "I did my vault how I do it in practice, which was a personal high for me, but there is always room for improvement."
Penn State was neck and neck with Nebraska in vault, losing 49.400 to 49.150.
Stauder's focus and bringing practice performances to competition
Kassidy Stauder is quickly becoming a household name in Big Ten gymnastics, as she owns her performances in uneven parallel bars and beam. They key to her consistent performances, she says, is her effort to perform her routines in competition exactly how she does in practice. Stauder's numbers this weekend illustrate her dedication to the notion, "practice makes perfect."
"Competing how we practice is becoming a team theme," said Stauder. "I warm up the same way for a meet as I do in practice, which helps keep my performance consistency."
Stauder finished behind Nebraska's DeZiel and Emily Wong in the all-around with 39.350 points.
Coach Thompson is looking forward to the rest of the season, especially after his team's performance against Nebraska. With key meets in the Big Ten coming up, it is imperative for the Nittany Lions to not lose sight of the positive strides made in Saturday's dual.
"We lost events by tenths of a point," said Thompson. "We can find those tenths of a point by doing a few extra hand stands and sticking some more landings. We can only build from the teams performance today."
The gymnastics teams will compete in another double dual next weekend at Rec Hall against Illinois. The Nittany Lions and the Fighting Illini will take the mat on Saturday at 4 p.m.
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State and Temple have enjoyed a historically competitive friendship on the football field, on the court and even the field hockey turf. Each year, fans come out to fuel the fire between the two Pennsylvania universities in either Philadelphia or State College. This Saturday, Rec Hall will be flooded by a sea of cherry, blue, and white as the Penn State's men's gymnastics team will take on the Temple Owls at 4 p.m. in a double dual.
Heading into this weekend's matchup, Penn State has championed both the West Point Open and the Navy Open, securing their 15th-straight victory in West Point. This weekend will not be the first time this season that the Lions and Owls have competed in the same venue, as they competed against each other in West Point, N.Y., and Annapolis, Md.
Eyes will be on Penn State's Trevor Howard, who has been chosen as the Big Ten Gymnast of the Week twice this season. Howard has the team's top score for 2014 on floor exercise, still rings, vault and parallel bars. The sophomore, who is coming off of an individual NCAA title on floor exercise, has been a vital contributor to the team's success this season. His efforts, coupled with the efforts of head coach Randy Jepson, have played a vital part in Penn State's victorious start to the season for the men's gymnastics team. The Nittany Lions topped Army in their first meet of the season, before taking first at the West Point Open and Navy Open.
Also making large contributions to the Lions' early season success are junior Matthew Felleman on the high bar, junior Tristan Duverglas on vault, and sophomore Alexis Torres on rings and floor. Felleman scored a season high 15.550 on high bar at Army. Duverglas attacked the vault, posting a season high score 15.200 during the individual competition at the West Point Open. Torres has been competitive on the floor, scoring 15.150 points at West Point. Nestor Rodriguez owns the team's top score on pommel horse in 2014 at 14.750.
Thanks to the performances of team members like Howard, Torres, Duverglas, Rodriguez and Felleman, the Lions started off the season putting up big numbers. Penn State has been consistent on the floor and on the still rings with season-highs of 74.299 and 75.100, respectively. The Owls' best event is the floor, posting a season high 69.2 points at the West Point Open. Temple's most consistent event this season is vault, as they have scored 68.5 points at West Point and 68.2 points at Navy.
A unique twist to this weekend's contest will be the added element of a double dual, as Penn State's women's gymnastics will also be competing against Nebraska.
While many will be tuning in to the Winter Olympics this weekend, if you want to participate in the longstanding, competitive traditions of Penn State and Temple, head to Rec Hall on Saturday at 4.
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Then-freshman Trevor Howard looked around Rec Hall, his home floor. He took it all in, looking out into the crowd, which he says he never does. But he wanted to soak in this memory to remember it for the rest of his life.
He stepped on the floor to compete in his first-ever NCAA Championship event. And even after battling a concussion earlier in the season, he hit the routine of his life and won the 2013 floor exercise national title.
"That was hands down the best memory as a Penn State gymnast," now-sophomore Howard said.
Howard guided the Nittany Lions to victory at the Navy Open on Jan. 25, finishing first on the high bar with a season-high score of 14.600. He placed second on the parallel bars with a 14.400 and second on the rings with a 15.770. He won Big Ten Gymnast of the Week after his performance.
In the week of practice before the Navy Open, head coach Randy Jepson focused on the gymnasts having cleaner routines, so this was Howard's main goal for the competition.
"Going out there during the competition and seeing all those improvements, [Jepson] was pretty happy," Howard said.
After each event, Howard said he felt confident about his performance. He said it was one of the better sets that he's done. Although he felt pain on the high bar in his shoulder, he could feel that he performed well, before seeing his score. He said he doesn't normally even look at his scores; he usually just tries to stay in the zone.
This technique seems to be working for the 5-5 gymnast from Columbus, Ohio.
This season, his season-high scores on the floor (15.500), still rings (15.750), vault (15.500), parallel bars (15.100) and the all around (87.600) are also the team's highest scores this season.
Being able to "feel" how well he performed before seeing a score comes from a lot of experience. Howard has been a gymnast since he was a 3-year-old
"I would climb on my mom's furniture and do backflips off of my sofa. My mom wasn't having that anymore, so she put me in the gym. I started out doing Tumble Kids and working my way up in the sport," Howard said. "A Russian coach saw the potential in me and said I should do the sport competitively. And I have stayed with it ever since."
His mother, along with the rest of his family and his friends are what keep him motivated. The success that he's had thus far is also a motivator to keep going.
"I mean everyday you come in the gym, it's not fun. You're getting beat up all day, but just the thrill of going out there, having the fans cheering you on and your family there, it's really nice," Howard said.
Family is very important to Howard. But family, to him, is bigger than just his immediate family.
His gymnastics club, Hocking Valley Gymnastics, was very family-oriented, so that's what he was looking for when choosing a college. He saw a family within the Penn State men's gymnastics program. His favorite part about being on this team is the team itself.
"We are all family. Brothers. I just love the guys on the team," Howard said.
Academics were also a deciding factor in Howard's college decision. He knew Penn State had one of the biggest network systems and felt secure that he'd have a job after graduating.
"[Academics] was one of the bigger choices [in deciding on a college]. I've always heard the saying, 'you will go pro in something other than your sport,' so you have to have a good education when you leave school for a job," Howard said. "Being able to come to such a prestigious school like Penn State, it's an honor to be here."
Much of Howard's success in the gym stems from the help of the coaching staff. When deciding on a college, a good coaching staff was a main criterion to help him achieve his ultimate dream.
"I wanted a good coaching staff so I could potentially go to the Olympics," Howard said. "And I know this is a coaching staff that could help me get there."
The day before each meet, Howard goes to the gym and visualizes his routine. Before he goes to sleep that night, he visualizes his routine again. Right before he competes, while listening to music, he visualizes his routine for each event one last time.
Howard has begun preparing for the team's next meet against Temple on Feb. 8. On Feb. 7, his pre-competition rituals will begin as the Nittany Looks to continue his strong start in 2014.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa- Even after taking college gymnastics by storm all season, Penn State freshman Trevor Howard managed to save his best performance for last.
Competing in the NCAA Championships for the first time, Howard put on a dazzling display during the floor exercise to earn a score of 15.800 and claim the individual national championship on the event.
"Right before I began I said my prayers and was just hoping to rock it," said Howard. "When I stuck my first landing, I felt great and then I just carried [the momentum] on through the routine stick by stick."
The performance, which topped Howard's previous best of 15.400, gave the Nittany Lions their first national champion on floor exercise since 1963.
Head coach Randy Jepson, who joked that he was only three years old the last time Penn State had a national champion in the event, was thrilled to see Howard win the title.
"To finally get another national champion on floor [exercise] is outstanding and I'm absolutely thrilled for him," said Jepson. "Having to come out in the NCAA finals as a freshman is a lot of pressure and he crushed [his routine]."
After a season in which he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week a conference record eight times, Howard entered the weekend knowing he could hold his own with the country's best gymnasts.
Still, the Columbus, Ohio native said he didn't necessarily expect to finish first in an event after he was forced to miss several weeks in the middle of the season because of a concussion.
"I pushed myself after my injury to make sure I was where I wanted to be at the end of the year," said Howard. "Coming out as a national champion when there are guys out there who hit equally difficult routines is just crazy."
Competing a day after the Nittany Lions finished in fourth place in the team finals, Howard stated that he was extra motivated to perform at his highest level possible.
Adding to his fuel was the fact that four members from the national champion Michigan Wolverines had also qualified in the event.
"Today I was looking to get back at those Wolverines [for winning the NCAA team championship]," said Howard. "It felt great and I feel a lot better [on Sunday] than I did on [Saturday] night."
With the Penn State fans in the crowd at full throat, Howard had plenty of energy and excitement behind him as he took the mat.
That excitement only increased after Howard's score was announced, which sent the Nittany Lion faithful into a frenzy.
"It was great to be in Rec Hall with such a great crowd," said Howard. "There's no feeling like it and I can't explain it."
The reaction from the fans was rivaled only by Howard's teammates, who took turns mobbing him in celebration after his routine was finished.
While he may have been the Nittany Lions biggest star of the afternoon, the freshman made sure that his teammates also received their fair share of credit.
"It was awesome to see so many guys from Penn State come through on multiple events," said Howard. "To see Parker (Raque), Adrian (Evans), and everyone else was just awesome."
For Howard, the most memorable moment of the afternoon was having the opportunity to stand on the top of the podium in front of his own school's fans after being named national champion.
When Penn State's fight song was played over the loudspeakers, the freshman took a moment to let it all sink in.
"I definitely took a picture of it in my head," said Howard. "Having the banner raised behind me and being on top was an incredible experience."
Jepson, who nearly broke into a sprint to congratulate Howard after his routine, didn't hesitate to declare the new All-American as one of the most impressive freshman to come through the program in his time as head coach.
Having also qualified for the individual finals on the parallel bars and the vault, Jepson stated that he sees an extremely bright future ahead of Howard.
"We've had some great freshman over the years but there's no question that he ranks amongst [the best]," said Jepson. "He's competition savvy and he's clearly demonstrated that he has an innate ability to perform on the biggest stages."
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Six Nittany Lions walked out in front of a crowded Rec Hall one last time as they competed in the fourth and final session of the 2013 NCAA Championships to close out another exciting season.
After missing a few routines Saturday night in the team finals, those who placed among the top 10 qualified for event finals on Sunday afternoon and were determined to hit their routines. They took head coach Randy Jepson's advice as he told them that two things should come out of Saturday night.
"As I gathered the guys I told them this, I said, 'You're not going to get everything you want in life and with disappointment should come two things. It should [give you] wisdom from what you learn from the experience. Number two that should come is determination about how you're going to do better and what you're going to make of it'," Jepson said.
The athletes did just that. They stuck together and supported each other to make the best out of their final opportunity to compete on the national stage in individual event finals.
Scott Rosenthal opened up the afternoon with his best performance of the year on the still rings. Years of hard work and overcoming adversity came down to one moment for the senior as he saw his last opportunity to compete as a Nittany Lion. Achieving All-American status, he stuck the landing on still rings and finished in third place with a score of 15.400.
"I was really thrilled for Scott," Jepson said. "He has a torn ligament in his shoulder. He rested for two months and didn't do anything, which is unheard of in rings because you have to maintain strength day by day. To have him come back and go three days in a row with his best routine of his short season coming on the last day is just remarkable."
Following Rosenthal was Adrian Evans on the pommel horse who stepped up and placed fifth with a score of 14.675. He earned his second straight All-American status on the apparatus.
With momentum starting to build for the Nittany Lions, Parker Raque wasn't going to slow it down. Adding to his previous All-American performances on the floor exercise and the vault, the senior added the still rings to the list by finishing sixth with a score of 15.075.
"[Today] was memorable," Raque said. "I was really glad for the opportunity and couldn't be more happy to have that one last routine to finish on. I had a personal goal to be an All-American on rings. I just went out there today and was able to achieve that goal, so I'll take that as a success."
Immediately after Raque nailed one last routine, Trevor Howard soaked in the energy from the crowd as he stepped up to compete on the floor exercise. Using the first two days of competition to get all of the nervous energy out, the freshman stuck each pass and won his first NCAA individual event title with a score of 15.800.
"When I was kneeling, I was just saying my prayers hoping to rock it out," Howard said. "When I stuck that first pass, it was a great feeling. I just carried [the momentum] on throughout the routine stick after stick."
After Howard saluted the judges, he knew he had one of the best performances of his career. But what he didn't know was that he was the first gymnast since 1963 to win a title on the floor exercise for Penn State.
"I didn't know about it until after someone told me it had been 50 years and it's crazy that it marks 50 years exactly today," Howard said. "There's no feeling like it. I can't explain it - it's just awesome."
However, Jepson was well aware of what Howard had just accomplished.
"I was three the last time we had a national champion on floor so to finally get another one was absolutely outstanding," Jepson said. "To have [Howard] come out in the NCAA final, as a freshman, on his home floor, with everything there to take; that's a lot of pressure for a freshman. I knew he had that in him and he showed it today. I'm really proud of him."
After Howard received his award and he stood on the top of the podium, his day wasn't over just yet. He finished ninth on the vault (15.025) and the parallel bars (14.175) to end an outstanding start to his collegiate career.
The excitement continued as senior Felix Aronovich received All-American status on the high bar as he finished in fifth place with a score of 14.725. The final competitor for the afternoon for Penn State was sophomore Matthew Felleman who earned his first career All-American status finishing in fourth with a score of 14.850, also on the high bar.
Ending the 2013 NCAA Championships and Jepson's 22nd season as head coach, the Nittany Lions closed out another exciting year. With all six of the gymnasts earning All-American honors on the final day, Penn State has a lot to be proud of.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa- Standing on the podium at the NCAA Championships after securing the third All-American nod of his decorated career, Penn State senior gymnast Felix Aronovich took a moment to let it all sink in.
Competing as the Nittany Lions lone competitor in the all-around competition, Aronovich used impressive scores in all six events to finish in fourth place with a total score of 86.900.
Despite Penn State finishing in fourth place in the team standings, Aronovich tried to remain positive, even with his final team meet with the Nittany Lions having just ended.
"I didn't want to think about it as my last meet here," said Aronovich. "If you think about it too much it gets you down but I'm just happy that I had a good meet personally."
Although a top five finish would be a cause for celebration for many, Aronovich maintained that his thoughts were strictly with his teammates.
"It's good to have personal success but it's not the same as being able to celebrate with your team," said Aronovich. "I feel bad for my teammates but we know we gave it our all."
With six events to concentrate on and with the added pressure of competing in his final meet, the Kiryat Bialik, Israel native had plenty on his mind heading into the night.
Even with so much to think about, Aronovich said he felt very few nerves during the course of the meet.
"Every event tonight I treated like a new meet," said Aronovich. "I didn't really feel nervous because as soon as each event ended I just started focusing on the next one."
Aronovich was impressive on both the parallel bars and the still rings, tallying a score of 14.700 in both events, as well as the high bar, where he finished with a 14.600.
Above any particular performance, the Olympian stated that what he will remember most about the night is having the opportunity to compete and succeed against the nation's top collegiate gymnasts.
"It's really nice to be able to compete against some of the best gymnasts in the world," said Aronovich. "It's something that I'll remember in 50 years when I'm old."
Aronovich landed his vault to finish his competition for the night, the Penn
State fans in attendance saluted the senior with a huge standing ovation.
While Rec Hall may have been host to fans from many different schools for the second straight night, the building was full of Nittany Lion pride when Aronovich stopped to take a bow for the Penn State faithful.
For Aronovich, having so many fans in attendance, including his father who traveled from Israel, meant more to him than he could put into words.
"I am so grateful to our fans because so many of them traveled so far to be here," said Aronovich. "I felt bad that we weren't able to win for them so I wanted to thank them for coming."
Along with thanking the fans, Aronovich took a moment after the vault to embrace each one of his coaches, especially head coach Randy Jepson
With four years of competing for Jepson complete, the All-American wanted to make sure his coach realized how big of an impact he had on him.
"I told [Coach Jepson] that I gave it all that I had and that I tried as hard as I could for him," said Aronovich. "It was a bittersweet moment and I came very close to crying."
Afterwards, it was clear that Jepson could not have been prouder of what Aronovich accomplished, not just during the night but during his entire career in general.
Having watched him grow from an inexperienced freshman to an Olympian and a team leader, Jepson admitted that it will be tough for him to picture his lineup without Aronovich in it.
"He fought like a warrior and he gave us his heart and soul," said Jepson. "He's been our anchor and those are going to be very big shoes for us to fill."
Though Aronovich may have been disappointed to have not finished his career with a team national championship, he couldn't have been prouder of what he and his teammates achieved this season.
"We had a great bunch of guys and a wonderful season," said Aronovich. "I'm very proud of those guys and its tough to see it end."
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In front of a packed Rec Hall, the Penn State men's gymnastics team soaked in the atmosphere and opportunity to compete in the finals of the NCAA Championships on Saturday night.
With energetic fans from all across the country helping to create a unique atmosphere for the athletes, Craig Hernandez has become a leader for the Nittany Lions nearly every time he steps up to compete.
Hearing the crowd chant "P-S-U" and the "We Are" cheer kept the morale up for the team and got him ready to perform.
"It's great and it makes me excited," Hernandez said. "It makes me want to go out and compete and do my best. I want to give them a reason to cheer more."
After qualifying for team finals in the second session of competition on Friday night, the men finished in fourth place. The schedule for the Nittany Lions followed the same rotations as the night before; starting on the parallel bars and ending on the vault.
Watching Trevor Howard compete, it would be hard to guess that this was his first season as a Nittany Lion. The freshman posted the team's top scores on the parallel bars, floor exercise, and vault, while finishing in the top three on the still rings. He was also one of the few athletes to score 15.00 or better, doing so on three of his four routines.
Howard was lucky enough to have his first NCAA appearance in a gym he was familiar with and in front of a large fan base to help calm pre-meet nerves.
"It was fun and good to have it at home," Howard said. "We had more of the crowd advantage and that really helped out with the nerves. I was just going in there with the mentality of getting amped up and thinking my positions out. I knew I had to go up strong and that my team needed me. I just wanted to do what I had been doing all season."
Handling the pressures of a national level meet is a challenging task no matter how much experience the athlete has behind them. Howard couldn't have accomplished what he did as a freshman if it wasn't for the leadership exhibited by the upperclassmen.
"We've had great leaders and they showed us throughout the year that anything is possible on any given day," Howard said. "They said this [night] was our [night] and we could do it since we worked [so hard]. They've been positive influences in and outside of the gym and have been great leaders for us."
Of those leaders were senior captain Parker Raque and senior Scott Rosenthal who both qualified for Sunday's event finals on the still rings. Raque finished in fourth place on the event with a 15.450 while improving his score by three-tenths of a point from Friday night. Rosenthal tied for eighth place, helping Penn State wrap up a stellar performances on the still rings.
Before Rosenthal was up to compete, he watched Nihir Kothari nail his second routine of the season, while Raque and Howard followed-up with some of their top scores of the season. Rosenthal balanced cheering for his teammates with staying focused and in the right mind-set for when it was his chance to perform.
"I was really getting into it watching the other guys," Rosenthal said. "I'm always torn between cheering for the guys in the event and getting into my own mentality. I get so excited but I also have to remember that I've got to do these skills this way and breathe here and there."
Knowing he had goals that he wanted to reach and that there would be pressure to perform at his best, Rosenthal never lost sight of the reason he was representing Penn State.
"The biggest thing for me is that from the moment I walk out in front the crowd to when I finish, I make sure I have some fun," Rosenthal said. "I hit my goal. I did the best routine I could possibly do and the best routine I've done for the guys all season. I really enjoyed the opportunity to go out there and support my team and show what I could do for them."
In addition to the team finals, senior Felix Aronovich competed to a fourth place finish in the all-around competition and received his third All-America status. He posted a score of 86.900 and will perform on the high bar Sunday afternoon in the individual event finals.
Adrian Evans (pommel horse), Mathew Felleman (high bar), Raque (still rings), Rosenthal (still rings), and Howard (floor exercise, parallel bars, and vault), will join Aronovich in the individual event finals.
The six Nittany Lions are set to compete at 2 p.m inside Rec Hall and finish on a high note in the final session of the 2013 NCAA Championship.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa- For Penn State gymnast Nihir Kothari, the scene almost didn't seem real.
Just over six months after tears to both his ACL and menisci had seemingly ended the senior's season before it the started, the former All-American found himself in front of the bright lights of the NCAA Championships.
"I really haven't felt that nervous in a long time," said Kothari. "Then as soon as I started I felt the atmosphere of Rec Hall take over and I felt like I was home."
Making his season debut on the biggest stage possible, and three months before he was expected to fully healed, Kothari not only competed but also pulled off an impressive rings dismount to earn a respectable score of 14.750.
While there may have been other Nittany Lions who scored higher on the apparatus, there was no doubt that Kothari's performance was the highlight of a night that ended with the Nittany Lions claiming the top score of session two with 436.900 points.
"I am so happy for [Nihir]," said head coach Randy Jepson. "He put his heart and soul into this program and he was heroic tonight."
Making the performance even more heroic was the fact that it came on the same routine that the Malvern, Pa native was performing when he injured himself in October of 2012.
"(Dismounting) was the biggest fear that I had but you have to live with what you worked for," said Kothari. "I did enough rehab to put myself in the mindset where I could treat it like practice and hit the sets."
Any lingering doubt that was still in Kothari's mind was erased by his teammates just prior to his routine.
As the fifth year senior waited to begin, his fellow Nittany Lions could be heard throughout Rec Hall chanting "How strong, so strong."
"That's an old chant that we generally save for the strongest guys," said Kothari. "During the routine everything washed away and I couldn't hear much but I could feel the presence of my teammates."
The routine may have been Kothari's first true performance of the season, but as soon as he took hold of the rings, it was almost as if he had never been out of action in the first place.
"As soon as I started it felt as if I had never stopped competing," said Kothari. "I felt this great sense of pride and Nittany Lion spirit.
That spirit was shared by the many Penn State fans that came out to support the squad on their quest to win their 13th National Championship.
Rec Hall may have held a partisan crowd with six teams competing in the evening qualifying session, but when Kothari stuck his landing, the Nittany Lion faithful made it feel just like a regular season home meet.
"To see all these people behind me is something that you can't put into words," said Kothari. "It's incredible and I have nothing but praise for our fans and for Rec Hall in general."
Along with his teammates and their fans, Kothari didn't hesitate to praise Jepson, not only for his guidance, but also for giving him the opportunity to compete at the National Championships after missing the entire regular season.
It is customary for Jepson to shake the hands of his gymnasts after they complete a routine, but after Kothari successfully landed his dismount, his coach made sure they embraced and Kothari enjoyed his moment.
"He just said that he was really proud of me," said Kothari. "All I said back was that I couldn't thank him enough for giving me the chance and how appreciative I am of all the support he gave me during the entire process."
Going into the night, Kothari believed that his rings routine would be the last performance of his career, a mere chance for him to give some of his other teammates some rest heading into the team finals on Saturday.
However, an injury to freshman Alexis Torres might enable Kothari to compete on the rings once again tomorrow, when he will try to help the Nittany Lions finish their season with a national title.
"I'm ecstatic and I'm going to give it everything I've got, just like I did tonight," said Kothari. "We really have something to push for tomorrow and we really have to give it our all."
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With eight months of training behind them, the Nittany Lions came ready to compete against the best athletes in the country on Friday night in Rec Hall as they host the 2013 NCAA championships.
Penn State came away as the top finisher in the second session with an overall team average score of 436.90 and will advance to finals tomorrow night where a national champion team will be named. However, they will go into Saturday night just behind Michigan who finished the first session with an average of 443.850.
Finishing with the top overall team average score on four out of the six events, the Nittany Lions improved on still rings (75.20), parallel bars (72.80), and high bar (72.45), but went down slightly from their previous average on the pommel horse (72.30). In this session, Stanford had top team scores on Floor (74.10) and Vault (73.60).
Reaching their first goal for this weekend, head coach Randy Jepson is content with the results of their first appearance in the 2013 NCAA competition.
"We're pleased to be able to advance," Jepson said. "That was the goal of today. We have another day and so we will recover and come to battle tomorrow."
With energy high for the Nittany Lions, their first rotation started with the parallel bars where senior Felix Aronovich had the highest score of the session. His score of 15.05 was the only score above 15.00 for the night. He used the cheering from the crowd to help him compete.
"It's fun, they're a really good crowd," Aronovich said. "They bring a lot of warm atmosphere making it unique and just awesome."
The momentum continued as the Nittany Lions headed to the high bar and took the top team average of 72.45, which was 0.50 above Michigan. Wasef Burbar has been a top scorer all season in this event and didn't let the pressure of NCAAs stop him as he led the team with a score of 15.20.
On their third rotation, freshman Trevor Howard was the highest performer for the Nittany Lions with Craig Hernandez close behind him. After the floor event, Jepson took Alexis Torres out of the line-up for the still rings.
"[Torres] was dizzy after floor so we took him out and wanted to make sure he was okay," Jepson said.
Fortunately this team has depth giving Nihir Kothari his first opportunity to compete this season. He's coming off of a torn ACL injury that happened in October. Despite not competing all year and taking into consideration that two weeks ago was the first time he practiced dismounts, Kothari proved he was a determined competitor that wasn't going to give up. He finished in the mix of top gymnast's on the still rings.
"I'm really proud of Nihir Kothari," Jepson said. "We told him to prepare like your going to compete. Those are the kind of kids who have made up the program over the past couple of years and pour their heart and soul into it. I was happy he was able to help push the team over the top."
With a year of experience behind him, Hernandez started his second NCAA Championships on a high note. After floor, Penn State had a bye giving Hernandez extra time before he took to the pommel horse.
His mentality before hand led him to another outstanding performance for the Nittany Lions where he finished with a 15.40 to contribute to their average team score of 72.30, finishing 1.5 points above all of the other teams.
"I just thought about hitting it like I know I can," Hernandez said. "I've been doing it in practice for a long time and I go out there and compete trying to do the best that I can do. That's all I did today."
Finishing the night on the vault, the Nittany Lions didn't let their momentum slow down as they pulled away from Stanford during their last rotation. The fans kept Rec Hall alive with cheers as they learned Penn State would advance as the top team from the second session.
"[The atmosphere] was great. They were really responsive and I'm looking forward to tomorrow night," Jepson said. "Anything can happen so hopefully we're prepared to go."
Even though Michigan finished Friday night with a slight lead going into the team finals, Jepson is only focused on his team.
"That was today and tomorrow is new life so anything can happen," Jepson said. "We have to be prepared to go no matter what. You have to focus on yourself and can't worry about where everyone else is. We want to do the best we possibly can. If that's enough - great, if not we've done as much as we possibly can."
Closing out another strong season, the Nittany Lions will enter Rec Hall on Saturday night hoping to win their first national title since 2007 and their 13th title in school history. Competition to find out who will be the 2013 NCAA championship team begins at 7 p.m.
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