Recently in Women's Gymnastics Category

Additions to Coaching Roster 'Vault' Program to New Heights

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10711636.jpegBy 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.

Up Next
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. 

Women's Gymnastics Set For First Big Ten Meet of the Season

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10699774.jpegBy 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."

Adrenaline Advantage
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."

Looking Ahead
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." 

VIDEO: #WGYMonday - Meet Briannah Tsang

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team is just nine weeks away from opening their 2015 campaign and each Monday we introduce you to a member of the squad. Our fourth #WGYMonday feature introduces freshman Briannah Tsang from Vancouver, British Columbia.

VIDEO: #WGYMonday - Meet Oni Timothy

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team is just 10 weeks away from opening their 2015 campaign and each Monday we introduce you to a member of the squad. Our third #WGYMonday feature introduces Oni Timothy from Rochester, N.Y.

VIDEO: #WGYMonday - Meet Chanen Raygoza

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team is just 11 weeks away from opening their 2015 campaign and each Monday we will introduce you to a member of the squad. The second in our #WGYMonday series introduces freshman Chanen Raygoza.


VIDEO: #WGYMonday - Meet Lauren Li

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team is just 12 weeks away from opening their 2015 campaign and each Monday we will introduce you to a member of the squad. Our #WGYMonday series will kick off with Lauren Li from Plano, Texas.


Barbour Eager to Lead Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 18th of August cannot come soon enough for Sandy Barbour.

Introduced as Penn State Director of Athletics on Saturday afternoon, Barbour is thrilled to begin her tenure as the leader of an athletic program that aspires to continue its long history of excellence on and off the field of play.

"When you spend a professional lifetime serving institutions and most importantly students, you dream about coming to a place like Penn State," Barbour said. "You dream about the opportunity to lead a program like Penn State athletics. Why? Because it represents the opportunity to have it all: Athletic excellence, academic achievement, community engagement and fiscal responsibility. So thank you, Eric [Barron]. I am absolutely thrilled, over the top excited about this opportunity and about being the athletic director at Penn State."

A graduate of Wake Forest where she was field hockey team captain, Barbour grew up on the East Coast and has always had a deep passion for Penn State University and its athletic department. That's what drew her to the position when she originally spoke with President Barron about the opportunity.

Immediately, Barbour felt a connection with the people, pride and remarkable accomplishments of Penn State University and its athletic department.

"I love the 'We Are Penn State.' I particularly love what it stands for. It stands for family," Barbour said.

Barbour desires to see national titles in all 31 sports on campus. But first and foremost, she will strive to lead a department with student-athletes who are elite performers in the classroom.

"We are athletic programs again that are all part of a university," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes will be students first, Penn State is incredibly proud of the academic performance of their students and we will continue to be."

Eager to hit the ground running when she begins her duties as athletic director in 23 days, Barbour wants to learn from everyone in the department, especially the head coaches leading Penn State's 31 athletic teams.

"Unity doesn't mean one opinion, and I actually embrace that, embrace the diversity of opinion, diversity in a variety of different ways, and I actually think that will make us stronger in our ability to move forward," Barbour said. "As I said before, I have something to learn from everybody, and I'll be doing a lot of listening."

Numerous head coaches were in attendance at Saturday's introductory press conference. The coaches and athletic department staff then had a chance to mingle with Barbour at a private reception before she boarded a flight to Chicago for Big Ten meetings. The head coaches in attendance exuded great confidence in the future direction of the athletic department.

"There is a culture, history and tradition of tremendous academic achievement at Penn State and that will continue," said head football coach James Franklin. "I know it's important to our president, athletic director and all of our coaches. That will continue. I know we'll spend as much time as we need to so we can start building."


"I am truly thrilled that Sandy Barbour will serve as the next athletic director for Penn State," Lady Lions head coach Coquese Washington said. "Sandy is a strong, dynamic and passionate leader. She is also an incredibly smart visionary and strategic thinker. It is exciting to imagine all the ways Penn State University, and Penn State athletics in particular, will be positively impacted by her leadership."

"I loved everything I heard today," head women's hockey coach Josh Brandwene said. "She has passion, vision and just a great understanding of the Penn State community. Both as a head coach and as an alumnus, I am really excited to start working with her."


Barbour will return to California in the coming days to prepare for her full-time return to Happy Valley on Aug. 18, and the new leader of Penn State Athletics is fired up to get started.

"We are Penn State. I'm all in. I'm ready to get going," said Barbour.

 


Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Women's Gymnastics NCAA Practice Session

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team took part in their practice session at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Thursday, April 17. Head coach Jeff Thompson and freshman Emma Sibson talked to GoPSUsports.com following the team's tune-up.

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

Floor Routines Send Lions to Birmingham with Confidence

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At the center of most gymnastics arenas and practice facilities lies a blue, chalk dusted, white-tape-outlined, square area. In the 39-foot by 39-foot space, gymnasts combine tumbling, dance, and stunts, while doing their best not to land, leap, or "stick it" out of bounds. For the Penn State women's gymnastics team, this complex event secured its trip to the NCAA Championships.

Gymnastics, a sport that was once dominated by men, didn't officially become an Olympic sport until 1924. Women were not allowed to compete in Olympic gymnastics until 1928, where they were allowed to compete in only one event. Floor performance was one of the last rotations added to the Olympic slate of gymnastics events; women weren't allowed to compete in floor routines until 1948.

Floor performance is the primary event where gymnasts are given a canvas for artistic expression, a canvas that coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson allow their gymnast to paint themselves.

"When we came to Penn State, we decided to take a backseat to the choreographing of floor routines," Rachelle said. "We allow our girls to have the most input in this event."

The Nittany Lions' first regular season meet of the 2013-'14 season was at Iowa State, where the team scored 48.600 on floor. Over the course of the next few meets, Penn State was improving dramatically in their overall floor scores.

"We didn't expect floor to become our best event," Rachelle said. "This has always been an event that is unpredictable at the start of the season. Last year we were really weak on floor, but this year, we planned ahead and got the girls ready to compete on floor early."

The coaching philosophies of the Thompsons are unique; their primary focus is building a community within their team. At the beginning of each season they break the team up into event-based teams - floor, bar, beam and vault.

"This system allows for the girls to help each other," Rachelle said. "The floor team developed sooner than any other team. I would have never guessed in October that floor would be our strongest event, but it is.

There wasn't a meet all season that the Nittany Lions didn't improve on floor. Their consistency and improvement on floor shined in the Feb. 15 meet against No.15 Illinois. Penn State, who was ranked No. 21 at the time, was not favored to win this meet. But, heading into the final rotation of the competition, the Nittany Lions were tied with the Illini. The Thompsons and their gymnasts left Rec Hall that day with a "W" and their highest floor score of the season, 49.375.

Their fate at the NCAA Regional Championships wasn't much different; their qualification to the NCAA Championships rested on their ability to "stick" a near perfect floor rotation. And they did.

"That was a roller coaster of emotions," Rachelle said. "As a coach, I refused to look at the score board. I wanted to stay in the moment and I wanted the girls to stay in the moment. I know floor is our best event, but anything could happen."

The Nittany Lions finished their floor rotation with a score of 49.425 and secured their slot at the NCAA Championships.

"I am excited to see how we match up to the other schools of floor," senior Lindsay Musgrove said. "At this meet [NCAA Championships] we start off the competition on floor. I am hoping that that will get us on a good roll."

The Penn State women's gymnastics team was "Birmingham Bound" Tuesday night, where the team will begin competition on Friday. This is the first time since 2009 that the team earned a spot at the NCAA Championships.

"Our message all year has been 'Just be us,'" Rachelle said. "When we didn't advance last year, we asked the girls to buy into our new system and they committed to it. We tell them all the time to stay present and if we can do that in Alabama, the Super Six is in our reach. What we have accomplished this season has raised the bar for Penn State gymnastics. This is what we do at Penn State."  

Coming Full Circle in Alabama

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By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As freshmen in 2011, Penn State gymnasts Lindsay Musgrove and Kassidy Stauder competed in their first collegiate gymnastics competition in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Three years later, the two will return to the southern state this weekend to compete in the NCAA Championships and their final meet as Penn State gymnasts.

Appropriately, this week's Word of the Week is "Full Circle", which attributes the seniors' journey starting and ending in Alabama.

The NCAA championship meet is the meet of all meets for collegiate gymnastics teams. This meet is unlike any other. Musgrove is looking forward to the championship atmosphere most.

"It's a completely different atmosphere. Thousands of people in the stands, crazy lights, glow sticks and you get to compete on podium, which is a big stage in front of the crowd" Musgrove said.

The second Word of the Week is "Us". The team is focusing on being themselves and competing how they practice everyday.

"We are coming in [to practice] and knocking out routines every day, so we just need to transfer that to the meet just like we did at Regionals and have our best meet," Musgrove said. "We've [also] been focusing on not looking at teams like Florida and Alabama and trying to be like them or be 'as good as them'. Who we are at Penn State is good enough to run with those guys."

The Nittany Lions saw No. 1 Florida compete at Regionals just two weeks ago and know that they can put up a fight against the Gators.

"Going into [Regionals] we knew they were ranked No. 1 and at the end of the meet, finishing just three-tenths behind them just shows how good we are. We have just as good of a chance as any other team to make it to Super Six," junior Randi Lau said.

Making it to Super Six means being a top six team on the first day of the competition and competing in the second day of the event. The Nittany Lions have never made it to the Super Six.

Penn State will start the competition this weekend on floor. Musgrove is looking forward to this event most.


"We're ranked the ninth in the nation on floor. Ending on floor at regionals, every single person hitting their routines, was so awesome," Musgrove said. "At this meet, we get to start on floor, so hopefully that will get us on a good roll to finish out the whole meet."

This weekend, No. 15 Penn State will compete in the evening session on Friday with No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Utah, No. 8 UCLA and No. 9 Nebraska. The Nittany Lions will begin with a bye, then proceed to the floor exercise, followed by vault, another bye, uneven bars and finish with balance beam.

The Big Ten has four teams competing this weekend (Penn State, Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan). The Big Ten and the SEC have the most teams competing in the 2014 Championships (Florida, Alabama, LSU, Georgia).

As this season comes to an end, the team is beginning to reflect on the past season. At the end of the 2012-'13 season, coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson devised a new plan for the team. The values and fundamentals of the team were going to change for the upcoming season. The gymnasts had to sign on to this new program, without knowing what was to come. Lau, who transferred last year from LSU, said she had to buy in to the Thompson's program, but it really paid off.

"The Thompsons really care about you on a personal level. I believe in their program and what they think. Their coaching styles are so encouraging," Lau said. "I trusted them as coaches to know that their program would work and it did. Here we are on the road to nationals."

The Blue and White's mission for the their first-ever trip to the Super Six begins on Friday at 8 pm.

"This opportunity is so amazing and we made it all happen ourselves," Lau said.