By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Saturday's senior night was bittersweet for coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson - the four seniors honored were the first gymnasts they recruited as coaches for Penn State.
Seniors Krystal Welsh, Sidney Sanabria-Robles, Alex Witt, and Lexi Carroll contributed to Penn State's quad meet win on Saturday, finishing ahead of Iowa State, Penn and SUNY Brockport, capping off their undefeated home slate this season.
These seniors are special, as they, along with the coaching staff, have again put Penn State on the map as one of the top women's collegiate gymnastics programs. Aside from their contributions to the sport, these girls have created a familial environment for the program; the trust they have in one another has made them as successful as they are today.
"From day one, these girls have been developing this trust for one another," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We have this saying, 'grab the rope.' When one of your teammates is having a bad day or doesn't perform as well on a routine, it is their job to support one another. If everyone is 'holding on' and supporting one another, being successful and doing what we do at practice in meets becomes that much easier."
It was no surprise to fans watching on Saturday that the seniors performed as well as they did. Welsh clinched the all-around title, finishing with a season best score of 39.400. She tied for first on vault with a score of 9.925 and earned a winning score of 9.875 on floor.
Sanabria-Robles trailed Welsh for the all-around crown with a score of 39.300. After a miss-step on uneven bars, the senior bounced back in a big way, scoring a 9.900 on vault, 9.850 on floor, and winning the balance beam crown with a score of 9.900.
"We worked really hard on details this week," Sanabria-Robles said. "We wanted to do what we do in the gym in the meet, and we did that in three out of four events today. Once we put it all together, we will be good to go."
Witt has been a consistent competitor for Penn State on uneven bars all season, after coming back from a thumb injury, which left her worried she wouldn't compete. Witt placed second on bars with a score of 9.800. Carroll was not in the starting rotation, but she competed in an exhibition routine on floor, earning a 9.775, capping off her career as the last performer of the day.
The Nittany Lions finished with an overall team score of 196.650, just shy of their meet goal of 197.
"You always want to score the 197," Witt said. "We keep adding more little details and sticks, hoping to get to the 197 that we need. We are consistent and we know we are hitting every routine because we trust each other and work off of each other. Every time we compete, the little things help bring us to the next level."
Since the beginning of the season, these gymnasts have been working tirelessly to see out their goal: win every meet. After Saturday's performance, they have won all but two matchups this season, both of which were on the road.
"We want to win the Big Ten tournament," Sanabria-Robles said. "That has been a dream of ours forever, since we started our journey here. We want to make it to nationals, just do what we know we can do. If we do that, we can make it into the Super Six and that is definitely the ultimate dream for us."
"At the rate we are going, we are on the right path," Witt added.
There is a sign outside of the Penn State women's gymnastics facility, which reads, "little eyes are watching." So many young gymnasts attend home meets at Rec Hall, watching these gymnasts every move. They have been conditioned to be stellar student athletes, but often times in a sport like gymnastics, which is just as mentally challenging as it is physical, you can get caught up in sticking a landing or earning a certain score. These gymnasts never lose sight of that; they know they are not only champions for the sport, but role models for those aspiring to be just like them.
"I got really emotional making their senior video," Thompson said. "This was a great way for these girls to end their career in Rec Hall. These girls don't let little things bother them. When they have mistakes they put them behind them quickly. These girls are special; for them to go undefeated at home in their senior season is special."
Recently in Women's Gymnastics Category
By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Recovery: the universal term for getting better after an injury. Most athletes us their recovery periods to get stronger, go to physical therapy, and rest. Senior Lexi Carroll took a different approach: she used her recovery period as motivation.
The Penn State gymnast injured her Achilles tendon during her junior campaign. With this injury, her season was cut short and with a strong freshman class coming in, Carroll knew that her recovery would need to be efficient; she would need to come back a stronger, better gymnast in order to make it into the lineup.
"When I think back on my time at Penn State, last year was a really rewarding experience," Carroll said. "Being able to host the regional tournament and watch my teammates compete, even though I couldn't was exciting. I got to watch our team make it to the Top 12."
Carroll comes from a rather athletic family, a big family, too. She is the oldest of six children, coming into a "leadership" and "big sister" role early. Her brother, is a freshman at Virginia Tech where he plays football and her sister has already verbally committed to play college lacrosse, despite being a sophomore in high school.
"Being a big sister has made being a big sister to my teammates easier," Carroll said. "I have always had to be a role model, whether I wanted to be or not. I like to lead my example, get in the gym and do my job."
This years' team is unique, with several freshman making major contributions to the team's performance, getting into the lineup is competitive.
"Lexi is our seven," head coach Jeff Thompson said, when talking about the six gymnast rotation. "She makes the team better. When you have seven solid gymnasts competing against each other for spots, they just keep getting better. That system of pushing one another is what has made this team so great."
With championship season quickly approaching, the team is gearing up for what has the potential to be a rather successful post season. While things change, week in and week out, Carroll is confident that this team will make its mark.
"We haven't reached our full potential yet," Carroll said. "We are having a really great season, the best is yet to come."
What she will miss most about gymnastics...
"What's funny about gymnastics is it isn't a sport that you can just do outside of a gym," Carroll said. "I can't just go to a court and have a 'pickup game' of gymnastics. When you are don't competing, you are done competing."
What she will miss most about being a Nittany Lion...
"This team is my family," Carroll said. "It will be a hard thing to leave behind. But, I have learned a lot. Collegiate athletics prepares you for life outside of competing or playing in a game; we learn time management, being held accountable, leadership, things you need in any career path."
The Nittany Lions return to Rec Hall on Saturday for Senior Day at 4 p.m. to face off against Iowa, SUNY Brockport and Penn.
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Performance, precision and power: the key ingredients to any competitive collegiate floor routine. For the Penn State women's gymnastics team, floor is strength; and neither the coaches nor the gymnasts understand how they have become so strong in this event; they say it "just happened." But, for anyone who has seen them perform and practice, it didn't just happen; they have truly earned it.
"We teach the girls a simple phrase for them to repeat in their heads as they start their floor routines," associate head coach Rachelle Thompson said. "It helps them relax and calm down before they perform."
Throughout the season, the team has routinely scored above a 49 on floor, achieving a season high of a 49.400 against Michigan State. Four gymnasts have scored the coveted "9.900" this season, including freshman Oni Timothy, sophomore Emma Sibson and senior Krystal Welsh. Freshman Briannah Tsang has gone as far as to secure a 9.925, the highest for the team this season.
Floor routines are exciting, as they combine various skills and technique, along with dance. Floor is the only event paired, specifically, with music in gymnastics. The music helps tell a story, one that has new chapters added to it as the gymnasts become more comfortable with their routines and their style.
"It is a never ending process," Thompson said. "Some of the girls come in with routines and music and sometimes we have to start from scratch. It is so great to see how the routines change as the season goes on. You get to watch the girls grow into their own. As a coach, you get to help them tell that story."
The coaching staff members are sticklers for "performing how you practice." Often, they say the girls are better in practice than they are in the meets. You might say there is a science to how the Thompsons run their practices, a formula that has been proven time and time again since they took over the program in 2010. They devote large portions of their practices to each gymnast working on one single event, instead of having them doing various events at the same time. During these sessions, the girls even cheer like they do in meets, so that competition day is a seamless transition from the practice gym.
"We train really hard on floor," Timothy said. "I don't know if it is a combination of what rotation we get during the meet and practice, but we are really good a this event. I love it because as soon as the music starts, you know that everyone looking at you. Nailing a routine or tumbling pass is the best feeling."
Performing inside of a taped-off square can be intimidating. If you go out of bounds, deduction. If you hold a pose too long, deduction. If you miss a landing, deduction. To say it is stressful would be an understatement.
"Floor is a very mental event," Tsang said. "You have to have a real sense of who are as a gymnast to make it through the minor missteps that happen. You just have to say to yourself, if you go out of bounds, just keep moving."
As the routines change throughout the season, the skill levels of the tumbling combinations change, too. Penn State has a roster of powerful gymnasts. The way they attack each routine and land with such definition after a tumbling pass speaks to their training.
"It is funny, sometimes the easier routines are the hardest for them." Thompson said. "We have to give them challenging passes and routines because they have so much adrenaline. They are so strong that if we were to give them an easy tumbling pass, they will go out of bounds, simply because they have so much power. Harnessing that energy is challenging, but it is so fun to watch them do what they do best."
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team finished off its Big Ten regular season home schedule on Saturday. While both teams united in competition, wearing pink leotards to bring breast cancer awareness, the Nittany Lions edged the Buckeyes in a 196.275-195.000 victory.
"[The Pink Meet] was an exciting day for us," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We had a great crowd, despite the snow. I thought the girls did a really good job today."
Two gymnasts from both ends of the experience spectrum led the Nittany Lions to victory over Ohio State: senior Sidney Sanabria-Robles and freshman Briannah Tsang.
Sanabria-Robles' Leadership In All-Around Competition
In her last regular season Big Ten meet at Rec Hall, Sanabria-Robles finished in typical fashion: winning the all-around title, winning on uneven bars and tying for the title on beam.
The senior is consistent, a quality that has not only helped shape her collegiate career, but one that has inspired younger gymnasts on the team.
"As a senior, I am taking it all in," Sanabria-Robles said. "We worked really hard in the gym this week. I have learned to take it one meet at a time and do the best I can."
Speaking of "best," the Nittany Lion shined on bars and beam against the Buckeyes. After starting on vault, Sanabria-Robles knew that the next three rotations would make or break the meet. She nailed her bars combination, sticking each of her handstands and dismount. Her performance earned her a personal best of 9.875 in the event, along with the title.
"Our bars performance today was outstanding," Thompson said. "We got a little too excited on vault, so I am really proud of the team for recovering so well on bars."
Aside from her bars performance, the senior was able to finish tied for first on beam, an event she has been solid on all year. Her performance earned a 9.850 helping her to the all-around crown.
"We do our best not to think about the end result," Sanabria-Robles said. "We take it one event at a time and if everyone does their job then it will come together and we will win. If we keep doing this, we will get where we want to be, which is competing in the last day at nationals."
Tsang Sticks It, Again
If you have ever wondered why the Penn State coaching staff has been anticipating Tsang's arrival to Happy Valley, you now know why. She has delivered stellar, jaw dropping performances since the beginning of the season. Her tenacity and strength, which is evident in her approach to every event, has helped her earn three Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors this season.
"I feel really blessed to be able to go out there and do what I love to do," Tsang said.
The soft spoken, humble freshman has been one of the most consistent in the Penn State lineup. She has not only improved each week, but uses her own marks as a guide and consistently tries to beat her scores from the previous week, regardless if they are unheard of for a rookie.
"She has been this good since she got here," Thompson said. "When we got in the gym at the beginning of the season, she would do a combination and we would say, 'she is this solid and it is October.'"
The freshman stood out the most in her floor routine on Saturday. Thompson and his coaching staff have had to make her routine harder and more challenging each week. While that might sound strange, the more challenging the routine, the more energy and force Tsang can harness into her execution. At the beginning of the season, she was landing outside of the tape because she was over-rotating. Simply put: she is too strong for lower level routines.
Tsang finished her floor routine with a score of 9.925, which is not only a new personal best, but a team best, too.
Penn State travels to Pitt next weekend, where they will start the final leg of their regular season before starting to prepare for post-season qualifying meets.
"I am proud of them," Thompson said. "The judging we saw this weekend is the kind of judging we are going to see at the regional and national tournament. This way we can get in the gym and fix what we need to fix now so that they will be ready."
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The old saying goes, "practice makes perfect," and if you practice hard, performing in a game or a competition will be easier. While no performance is ever perfect, some come pretty close.
Gymnastics is a sport where the performance on individual can impact the team; it is just as much mental as it is physical. Penn State women's gymnastics head coach Jeff Thompson and his staff preach, "compete how you practice," and "perform like you do in the gym." This coaching tactic remained steadfast in Saturday's meet against Michigan State, as the Nittany Lions won each event and earned an impressive team score of 197.025.
"It was en exciting night; we finally did what we do in practice," Thompson said. "As a coach of a top collegiate team, you always want to score a 197 [team score]. We accomplished that and more tonight."
Vault: Sibson, Sanabria-Robles and Tsang Set Personal Bests
Penn State started its rotation on vault, a card they have drawn in almost every meet this year. What has changed as the season has progressed is their ability to attack this event, using that adrenaline and momentum for the rest of the meet.
"When you start a vault rotation off with one of the hardest, most challenging vaults in the NCAA, it is hard to gauge the judges reaction," Thompson said, speaking to freshman Oni Timothy's one and a half twist. "Tonight she didn't score as high as she normally does, but we put her first and the judges had nothing to compare it to."
Freshman Briannah Tsang and senior Sidney Sanabria-Robles were later in the lineup. The two gymnasts set personal bests with a matching score of 9.875, contributing to the team's overall event score of 49.175. But, sophomore Emma Sibson's vault stuck out the most. Not only did she stick it, she set a new season- best with her score of a 9.900.
"I have really focused on cleaning up my form," Sibson said. "I don't focus so much on sticking as I do my technique. I struggled the first few meets where I was ending with my chest too low. I have worked really hard over the past few weeks to get comfortable enough that I end on a solid note."
Welsh Recovers to Win Bars and Floor
For the first time in her collegiate career, senior Krystal Welsh missed her vault landing. But she finished with grace, knowing she needed to perform her best in the next three events.
"I obviously did not like what I did," Welsh said. "But, it is what it is. I will learn from it. It is always hard to let that feeling go during a meet, but I knew I had to. I know I will never do that again."
Despite starting off on an unfamiliar note, Welsh bounced back with a stellar performance. The all-around competitor walked away with a first place finish on bars with a score of 9.875 and tied for first on floor with a score of 9.900.
"From the moment we come to campus we learn to recover from a missed landing," Welsh said. "The team learns how to lean on each other and not let the performance of one person bring them down. We rally and we push through. It is all about trust."
Team Rallies For Fifth Highest Score in School History
The Nittany Lions not only managed to outscore their goal of 197 team points with a finish of 197.025, but their performance was one of the highest in school history. The team was able to recover from a missed landing on vault and still score above the 49 point mark in each event.
"It was fun for everyone," Thompson said. "This team is special."
Penn State takes on Big Ten rival Ohio State on Saturday in Rec Hall at 4 p.m.
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After travel plans were upended due to continuous snowstorm over the Northeast, the Penn State women's gymnastics team finally made it to Illinois last weekend. Despite a stressful trip to Champaign, the Nittany Lions were ready to take on the fighting Illini in their Big Ten matchup.
For anyone following the meet, the team started off the day in normal fashion: breaking personal best records. However, this meet was different; Penn State was able to perform the break a 12-year-old school record on vault.
"Oni [Timothy] started on vault for us," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "She is able to stick one of the hardest vaults in NCAA competition. The five vaults following her were amazing. The girls stuck everything. This is the best vaulting performance I have seen as a coach."
The team finished with a nearly perfect vault score of 49.550.
"It was a tail of two teams that day," Thompson said. "We are still working on our lineup order and the most important position is who goes first."
Unfortunately, the adrenaline rush the team felt from their record-breaking vault performance did not transition well into the other events. Coach Thompson thinks the team was too excited, which, in a mentally challenging sport like gymnastics, can make or break you in competition.
"We gave Illinois the lead of floor," Thompson said. "Briannah [Tsang] went out of bounds on an easy pass because she just had so much adrenaline, the same happened to Lauren [Li]. Emma [Sibson] unfortunately fell. It just felt like we were off a little bit."
After beam and bars, the Nittany Lions were unable to bounce back, losing to the Illini by less than a point [196.400 to 195.600].
"We have made a few adjustments this week," Thompson said. "We told the girls all week that we just need to stay focused and take one thing at a time. We have changed up our lineups and we are moving the more consistent girls to the front."
Timothy's vault has "stuck" a first place send off in the Nittany Lion's lineup on vault. Alex Witt is going to lead off on bars. Nicole Medvitz will take over the first position on beam and Li is going to open for the team on floor.
"We made a few changes to Briannah [Tsang]'s floor routine," Thompson said. "Surprisingly, we have made it harder. She is so powerful that when we giver her an easy pass and she has a flush of adrenaline, she will over rotate and that is when things like going out of bounds happens and falling happen. So we are hoping that this new, challenging, pass will help her."
Penn State welcomes Michigan State this weekend and Coach Thompson hopes to see how the new lineups match up against another Big Ten foe.
"Michigan State is having a great year," coach Thompson said. They are ranked ahead of us on beam and floor. We have to bring our A game. We can't give them any opportunities. We beat ourselves out in Illinois. We just need to do what we do in the gym everyday."
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - If you were to place two boxes of toothpaste next to one another, they would measure about five inches wide. Now, imagine jumping into the air and landing on top of two toothpaste boxes, four feet off the ground; gymnasts do just that every day when they perform their beam routines.
The Penn State's women's gymnastics team has had a pretty successful run on balance beam so far this season. With a teammate falling in the first rotation almost every meet, the next five competitors have had to "stick" their landings.
"Beam is definitely a mentally challenging event," senior all-around competitor Krystal Welsh said. "If you focus too much on falling, you will probably fall."
Beam strategy changes for most of the gymnasts as they transition to collegiate gymnastics. In club gymnastics, you train yourself to not fall off the beam and you are conditioned to think that the quicker you do your routine, the better.
"I remember in club it was considered a 'good day' if you only fell once in a beam routine," sophomore Emma Sibson said. "Now, we train and focus a lot on the mental side of the event."
In practice, the Nittany Lions employ several mental exercises, transitioning them into competition. As the gymnast approaches the beam, she is taught to focus on a singular voice of one of her teammates, not the crowd or the other events performing at the same time.
"It is funny, we cheer the same way at practice as we do in the meets," Welsh said. "It really is a team effort, from start to finish."
This week, Penn State has moved up to No. 9 in the rankings as they head to No. 14 Illinois this weekend.
"For us to be able to approach beam in this way this early in the season will pay dividends for us later," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "They know how important the event is and they work really hard to help each other."
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - From the solid landings to the explosive execution, the Nittany Lion women's gymnastics freshman class delivered a stellar performance in Saturday's meet against Big Ten newcomer, Maryland. In the 196.55-194.45 win over the Terrapins, freshmen Briannah Tsang, Oni Timothy and Lauren Li put up big numbers in their respective events, shattering personal best records and setting new team records in the process.
"That was beautiful, wasn't it?" head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We have been waiting years for this class to finally get here. They are starting to figure it out."
So far this season, these gymnasts have been explosive, electric and surprising, constantly proving their worth and solidifying their spots in the Nittany Lions' rotations.
Li Delivers on Vault
The Plano, Texas, native was a solid opener for Penn State on vault; she opened the meet with a 9.875. It is never easy for anyone to open a meet or an event, but that pressure is even more daunting for a rookie. Li rose to the occasion and delivered an impressive performance. Not only did the freshman win the event and set a personal best, she set a new team record.
Li delivered on floor as well, tying three other Nittany Lions for fourth with a 9.80 finish, tying her personal best. The freshman led the team with the opening performance on beam, but came up just shy in her bid to stick a landing.
"Beam is one of the hardest events," Thompson said. "It is just as much mental as it is physical. Unfortunately, Lauren [Li] hasn't been able to do what we see her do in practice in the meets. She is solid on beam, but when she is out in front of the crowd she focuses more on not falling than performing. I talked to her right after she finished the routine and I asked her, 'Why do you thing we have you first?' We have more confidence in her than anyone else."
Timothy Shines On Floor
With every press off the mat and ever leap into the air, Timothy is explosive. There is so much power in her performance that you expect her to stick every landing. The New York native switched up her vault routine, landing an impressive turn for a rookie, earning her a 9.80, a personal best.
"We upgraded her vault this week," Thompson said. "She went from a full to a one and a half. She has been able to perform this fault before, but she has struggled with consistency. Today she nailed it and I think people saw just how confident Oni [Timothy] could be today. She was the second vault of the meet and she was able to stick such an impressive turn; I don't think the judges knew how to react to it."
Her floor routine was impressive, too. She stuck a double layout in her first pass of the routine, followed by two other combinations that were just as impressive, finishing with a personal best and fourth overall, while matching the team record.
"She did a really nice job on floor," Thompson said. "She even made a flub in her second pass but you wouldn't know it because of her confidence."
Tsang Is Pure Magic
There really are no words to describe this young gymnast. Her performance is effortless and truly beautiful. Tsang has been a firecracker in the all-around competition, shattering personal bests and team records with every tumble and leap.
Saturday's performance was special. Not only did she win the all-around title, she won floor and beam with near perfect scores. Tsang opened her floor routine with a complex pass combination that involved so many rotations you weren't sure how she could stay in the air that long. She finished with a 9.875, setting a team-high and new personal best.
"When you put her [Tsang] in the lineup on events that she is comfortable with, it is as easy and effortless as flicking a switch," Thompson said.
Her beam routine was one for the record books, too. Finishing with a stellar 9.950, the freshman set a new team high and personal best. Her all-around performance contributed to her 39.500 finish on the day, clinching the all-around title.
"Briannah [Tsang] is a different kind of gymnast," Thompson said. "She isn't your typical freshman. Before coming to us, she competed internationally for her country [Canada] and she has a gold medal from the World Cup. Gymnastics is something that comes to her. I don't know if there is anyone else in college who has a gold medal from the World Cup. It is truly magical to watch."
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At the end of each season, collegiate programs graduate seniors and look for recruits to fill open spots on the roster. It is almost second nature for coaches and teammates to have to adjust to new faces, techniques and strengths as a new season rolls around. Sometimes, these adjustments are not only made with new teammates, but with coaches as well.
At the start of the 2014-'15 season, two new faces, techniques and strengths found their way to Happy Valley, where they would contribute to Penn State's women's gymnastics program. Kera Molinaro and Jeff Richards have begun their Penn State careers this season, bringing experience, charisma and unique approaches to the team.
"They have been great additions to our program already," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "Every day they surprise me and I am thankful to be able to work with them."
The Richards File
There isn't a division that Jeff Richards hasn't coached in. Over the past 25 years, Richards has been either an assistant or head coach at every level of collegiate gymnastics. From Iowa to George Washington and now Penn State, Richards brings unrivaled experience to the Nittany Lion program.
"It has been a really smooth transition," coach Jeff Thompson said. "Jeff [Richards] is a really likeable guy. It is nice because we have developed this kind of 'partner coaching' style, which is really helpful because we have such a small group this year."
Richards began his coaching portfolio at Utah State as a student-assistant from 1988-'90. While assisting the Aggies, Richards helped the program to the NCAA Regionals, along with an NCAA Championship all-around competitor. From Utah State, he made his way to University of Wisconsin-Stout and Winona University, where he served as head coach of the programs, respectively. Richards' transition to Big Ten gymnastics came in 2005 when he began his tenure as assistant coach at Iowa. While he was only apart of the Hawkeyes' program from 2005-'08, the impact he made was enough to earn him the 2008 North Central Region Assistant Co-Coach of the Year title.
"When you are coaching floor routines, it helps to have a coach spotting you who you feel comfortable with," Jeff Thompson said. "Jeff [Richards]'s build, as crazy as that sounds, allows for the girls to be more comfortable doing the extra turn or committing to a rotation. He has a lot of experience and is a big, strong guy, so he can step right in. They know that he is going to catch them. There is a trust level there that you can see already."
When Richards' tenure came to an end at Iowa, he made his way back to his stomping grounds at Utah State, where he coached until 2013. In his time at the helm of the Aggies' program, he sent five qualifiers to the NCAA Regionals and nine of his pupils earned All-Western Athletics Conference honors on 13 occasions. He has mastered the art of developing well-rounded student athletes, as 22 of his team members earned Academic All-WAC.
Richards' contributions to the team can be seen already, as last weekend's floor performance proves. In the match against Nebraska, the Nittany Lions had five floor routines open with an "E" level tumbling pass, compared to the Cornhuskers' one. Because the team has developed a comfort level with him, coupled with their already great relationship with head coach Jeff Thompson, they are able to maneuver through these hard routines early.
"I think that is something that will pay dividends for us later," Jeff Thompson said.
The Molinaro File
If you are wondering why the name Molinaro sounds familiar, it is because that name is familiar to the Penn State community. Frank Molinaro, Kera's husband, was a four-time All-American wrestler and National Champion (2012) for the Nittany Lions during the 2007-'12 seasons. When Frank decided to come back to his Happy Valley roots and help coach his alma mater, it was only fitting for Kera to tag along.
"Back in October I said to myself, 'Wow, I am so glad she is apart of our program,'" coach Rachelle Thompson said. "She is a volunteer assistant coach, which says a lot about her as a person. She does this because she loves it; you can see it. When you look at coaching as not a 'job' but a passion, you really see the impact you can have as a mentor by helping these young women improve day in and day out. I have already seen the impact she has made on this team."
Prior to making the move to Penn State as a volunteer assistant coach, Molinaro was an assistant women's gymnastics coach at Rutgers, where she helped the program secure its first NCAA Tournament birth since 2007. Kera's strength is taking floor routines to the next level, as she did for Rutgers during the 2013 and 2014 seasons when the Knights set school records.
"She really made an impact there," Rachelle Thompson said. "Kera has a great little spirit about her. Our coaching techniques compliment each other really well. She has a very laid back, yet aggressive coaching style that the girls really seem to be responding to."
Before assisting at Rutgers, Molinaro volunteered at her alma mater, Oregon State. Molinaro took over the Beaver's strength and conditioning program and helped shape their beam routines. During her time on the coaching staff, Oregon State finished eighth in 2010 and 2011, the program's first top-ten finish in 13 years.
Gymnastics is in her blood, as Molinaro began her collegiate gymnastics career as a walk-on for the Beavers; it only took her a year to earn scholarship standing. She not only made touches in every event, but she was a three-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection and earned NACGC Scholastic All-American honors.
"Being able to have someone who is qualified to be a full-time, Division I coach, volunteer their time with you has been an amazing experience," Jeff Thompson said.
The Nittany Lions welcome the Maryland Terrapins to Rec Hall this weekend in the first and only double dual of the 2014-'15 season. Penn State's men's gymnastics team will host Michigan. The double dual is Saturday at 4 p.m.
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson have always employed creative team building strategies into their coaching routine. From "words of the week" to "captains of the week," changing it up week and week out has proved to be a useful tactic for the Nittany Lions.
While it is understood that winning each meet is always the goal, this season the team has taken on a new approach to "sticking" the win week in and week out.
"I asked one of our freshman last week, 'Who are you competing against this weekend,'" coach Jeff Thompson said. "I was waiting for her to say Nebraska, but she surprised me; she said herself. Gymnastics is very much a team sport, but if our girls continue to get better, individually, each week, the sky is the limit."
Heading into Sunday's matchup against No. 8 Nebraska, Penn State women's gymnastics fans will see some changes in the line up. With several previously injured gymnasts making their way back into the rotation, the team is staring to come full circle.
"Each week is a learning experience for us as coaches," Thompson said. "If you think about it, last meet was our first chance to see how the girls handle pressure in a collegiate meet."
As Coach Thompson said, while gymnastics is a "team sport," individual performances can make or break a meet. The biggest obstacle gymnasts have to overcome is channeling their adrenaline in the right places.
"The girls learn how to use their adrenaline or nerves to their advantage as they become more comfortable," Jeff Thompson said. "Coming from a local gym or their home gym into the collegiate competition is a transition that doesn't just happen over night. Gymnastics is very much a competition against the opposing team as it is against yourself."
Strong Freshman Class
Despite anticipated first meet jitters, the Nittany Lions' freshman class is already proving to be an asset to this "Big Ten Championship" hungry team. In the first week out, Briannah Tsang, not only clinched the all-around title with a pair of event titles but was named Big Ten Rookie of the Week.
"We knew she was going to be one of our strongest gymnasts when she came to us," Jeff Thompson said. "She was an incredibly successful gymnast in Canada, having won nationals on vault. We expect to see her become one of the top ten best in the country. What you see is what you get with her; her performance in the gym at practice is the same as her performance in the meet."
Seniors Krystal Welsh and Sidney Sanabria-Robles will be taking on a leadership role in the all-around competition. The two seasoned competitors will be paving the way for the young Nittany Lions, especially freshman all-arounders Tsang and Lauren Li.
"We made a couple changes in the lineup this week," Thompson said. "As we start out early in the season, we are still getting to know this team; what they are capable of competitively."
No. 15 Penn State takes on No. 8 Nebraska Sunday at 4 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
"This season is going to be a great one to watch," Thompson said. "We are excited to see what this team can do."