Recently in Women's Gymnastics Category

12474818 (1).jpeg

By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a decision between dance and gymnastics for senior Nicole Medvitz. 

At the age of six, she had to make a choice that would shape her future. But 15 years later, she doesn't regret her decision at all.

"I started [gymnastics] when I was about four years old, just taking regular classes," senior Medvitz said. "Then, when I was six, I was asked to join pre-team, and it just started from there. I remember the day that I got asked to join pre-team because I had to choose between dance and gymnastics. I choose gymnastics and I'm really glad that I did."

Medvitz's high school gymnastics career was nothing short of prolific. She won three straight Junior Olympic National Championships on the balance beam in 2011, 2012 and 2013, won the New Jersey State Championship in the all-around in 2011 and 2012, and was named the 2010-11 New Jersey Gymnast of the Year.

When she was looking at colleges where she could continue to develop her high-level gymnastics skills, she knew that Penn State was the exact place she was looking for.

"I chose Penn State because when I visited, I just loved the atmosphere, the campus, and the amount of Penn State pride everyone has here," Medvitz said. "I could really tell that it was an amazing school and I love the team. I chose it my junior year after looking at a bunch of different colleges, mostly Big Ten colleges, and a couple of other ones. It just felt like the school that fit me the most and the combination of athletics and academics was perfect." 

Medvitz's time at Penn State was been one for the record books and after every single season, she only continues to get better.

During her freshman year, Medvitz competed in all 14 of the team's meets, including the NCAA Regional Championships and at the NCAA Championships. During the Big Ten Championships, she notched her career-best of 9.850 on uneven bars. 

Throughout sophomore year, Medvitz continued to contribute solid routines on the uneven bars and balance beam, but during her junior year, she took her performances to a whole new level. On March 12, 2016, at the Big Five Qualifier, Medvitz earned a score of 9.975 on the balance beam, which is tied for the fifth-highest score in program history. 

"I always say to her, 'You have ice in your veins,' because it doesn't matter who she comes after, what the circumstance is, she just attacks her routines," interim co-head coach Kera Molinaro said. "She also has the flexibility aspect and the unique beam skills, so that separates her from a lot of other people." 

In her final season, Medvitz has continued to perform at the highest level. She has won seven balance beam titles this season, including five in Big Ten matchups. 

"She has grown a lot," co-head coach Molinaro said. "She has blossomed into such a confident gymnast. She's always been an awesome beam worker, but this year, she's just on a new level where she just smiles before her beam routine, and I know she's going to go up and hit it how she does in practice every day." 

For Medvitz, there is nothing better than getting on the beam and performing a great routine.

"[Getting off the beam], it's just the feeling of excitement," Medvitz said. "The ultimate excitement you could possibly get." 

The balance beam may be the most challenging event for some gymnasts with its mere width of four inches, nonetheless Medvitz never stumbles when she's up there.

"It's imperative actually [to have a good anchor]," Molinaro said. "You need a beam anchor that you know can handle any situation and someone that can just close out the event for you regardless of what happened in front of her. She's been a rock for us all year." 

With the NCAA Regionals and Championships approaching, Medvitz's season is coming to an end, but sports will always be a part of her life.

"I'm hoping to work in the sports industry because sports is my passion and something I really love," Medvitz said. 

The Paramus, NJ native is planning to use the experience that she gained at her summer internship with Nike to pursue her dream. 

"That was a ton of fun," Medvitz said. "I really love the company and I learned so much about what it takes to work in such a large industry. Everyone there really loves sports, too. I was also able to explore Oregon a lot, so that was very different from the East Coast, but it was a lot of fun."

Even with only a few more competitions left, Medvitz is hoping to use her time to be the best teammate and leader she can possibly be.

"She's really come out of her shell the last two years," Molinaro said. "She gives her teammates really good advice and she speaks up a lot. She's always happy, has a great attitude, and you can count on her to bring excitement in the gym. She's just an even keel; she doesn't get super high or super low. She is a solid, consistent individual." 

The most important lesson Medvitz has for any gymnast is to "enjoy every moment," and that is exactly what she will be doing for the rest of the season. 

"I'm just really glad that I get to represent such a great school and I just have so much pride for this school," Medvitz said. "Being able to leave a legacy is really something that means a lot to me, and I'm hoping that we pave the way for the future so that Penn State gymnastics continues to get better."

12534076.jpeg

By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Based on the rankings for collegiate women's gymnastics teams, there may have been doubts on how Penn State would perform at the Big Five Qualifier this past weekend. However, the NIttany Lions team ignored the outside noise, put all their effort into each routine, and finished third with a score of 195.450.

With a top-three finish, the Nittany Lions will begin their quest for the Big Ten title during the evening session of the Big Ten Championships at Piscataway, NJ on Saturday. 

"The [Big Ten Qualifier] is a big confidence booster for them," interim co-head coach Josh Nilson said. "We were not supposed to make the evening session. We had a bit of a rocky start on uneven bars, but they pulled it together, came through in a big way on balance beam, and just kept the momentum going. Going from not supposed to be in the evening session to 'making it', it's a huge confidence booster for them." 

Coming off its fifth-highest score of the season, the Nittany Lions learned what they had to focus on to capture the conference title - the small details.

"The last couple of weeks, we have been focusing on our level," said Nilson. "We are going to continue focusing on the team and really talking to them about the little things. Focusing on the small details is really what [we've been] working on all week, and fortunately, we're up to full strength in all of our lineups, so really, it's all about us and the small things this weekend." 

For junior Briannah Tsang, the Big Ten Championships will be nothing new for her. She knows what's on the line and knows how to handle the pressure from all the different teams. Nonetheless, she understands that there could always be room for improvements.

"We're all just trying to fix the minor details and hope we can gain little half-tenths here and there," Tsang said.

Tsang has been working all season long for this weekend and is prepared to do her best.

"The upperclassmen, they're extremely motivated," Nilson said. "They're pushing the younger athletes. The upperclassmen want to perform at their very best and they're pushing the entire team. The leadership on this team has come together and they're pushing really hard. They want to surprise people this weekend." 

After the Big Five Qualifier, four Nittany Lions earned All-Big Ten honors. Tsang and sophomore Sabrina Garcia received First Team All-Big Ten honors. Senior Nicole Medvitz and freshman Kristen Politz got mentions for the Second Team All-Big Ten. 

Even though this is Politz's first time competing in the championship, the coaches know that she is as good as any of the other gymnasts. 

"Kristen understands her gymnastics and she trusts herself," Nilson said. "When we talk to her, we just simplify it for her. We make it something that she has done her whole life and I think we'll be focused on her performance, which is something we've worked on really for the last few weeks; focusing on the controllable."

Tsang hopes to use her leadership and experience to help the freshmen, and she's ready to tell the world what Penn State gymnastics is all about.

"I hope that we can bring the freshmen in there, make sure they have a lot of fun, and just do what we normally do," Tsang said. "We're going to carry the momentum from the weekend and keep the ball rolling. We're all really excited for Big Ten's and showing everyone what we can do."

12492385.jpeg

By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When senior Christina Postiglione was in middle school and high school, she had her heart set on Penn State. She knew that she wanted to be a collegiate gymnast as well as a Nittany Lion, so when she was offered a full-ride to attend school in Happy Valley, she accepted the offer without thinking twice about it.

"I'm from New York and my dream was always to get a full-ride to a big school, I always had my eye on Penn State," Postiglione said. "I came to the camps and I just fell in love with it and the atmosphere. When I was offered [a scholarship], I didn't hesitate to say yes."

However, Postiglione's time on the women's gymnastics team hasn't been typical. She injured a knee in high school and had surgery, but then, when she came to Penn State, her surgery had to be redone. This set her back a whole year as she did not officially compete during her freshman season.

The 5'0 gymnast officially competed for the first time on February 21, 2015, her sophomore year against then-No. 24 Michigan State. She was able to compete on the uneven bars and balance beam in eight of the team's 12 meets that season, including the NCAA Regional Championships. Her career-high on uneven bar was 9.825 in the Big Ten Championships and on balance beam, she earned a 9.850 against West Virginia. 

"My first time competing my sophomore year, it was exhilarating," Postiglione said. "The adrenaline that you feel and just the joy and happiness that you get out of accomplishing your goals and putting up a good score for your team, it's just an amazing feeling."

 Unfortunately, this would be the only season that Postiglione would be able to compete for the Penn State women's gymnastics team as she would reinjure her knee later that year. 

"I've had multiple ACL years, which has been pretty hard, but I have come back from three ACL tears, and I just tore it for the fourth time, which is leaning me to retire, but I wouldn't have changed my experience [at Penn State] for anything," Postiglione said. "It has taught me how to be strong mentally within the sport, and that's a big aspect of gymnastics, so it's been pretty cool." 

Even though Postiglione isn't putting chalk on her hands to perform on the uneven bars or practicing for the beam, she has taken a new role on the team - the supporter. 

"She's grown a lot since her first year," interim co-head coach Kera Molinaro said. "Everyone looks to Tina. I would say, she has sort of like a motherly role on the team. Everyone knows that, at any point, they can go to her for support and she's so inspirational to everyone. She cheers all the time and she gives you a big smile and a hug when you need it, so I think all the girls feel like they have so much support from her." 

Her most valuable lesson though is not about skills nor practicing; it's about having fun.

 "I would tell [the freshmen] to really just enjoy every second," Postiglione said. "There's going to be a lot of obstacles that you're going to have to overcome and it's not going to be easy, but it's going to make you into who you are."

 Her drive and initiative are not just in the gym, but also in the classroom. Postiglione earned Academic All-Big Ten honors her junior year.

 In May, she will be graduating with a degree in psychology, and though she can't compete anymore, her future will be in sports, no matter what. 

"I choose psychology because I interact with people very well," Postiglione said. "I actually came in as a kinesiology major and wanted to do physical therapy. After my first semester, I was like, 'Yup. That's definitely not for me.' I like how I interacted with people and I want to be a sport psychologist in the future. I just fell in love with it, and now it's my new passion. After graduation, I plan on going to graduate school for sports psychology and then later down the road getting my doctorate." 

Last Saturday evening, Postiglione attended her last meet at Rec Hall, and it was something she will never forget. 

"It's been absolutely amazing," Postiglione said. "It's really bittersweet that it's almost over, but I've enjoyed every second of it...[I'm going to miss] the crowd's energy and Penn State pride in Rec Hall the most. I'm going to miss that so much and just being on the floor." 

Nonetheless, there are memories at Penn State that Postiglione will carry forever.

"My personal favorite time at Penn State would probably be competing beam," Postiglione said. "I love beam so much and that's my favorite event. Probably just looking back at Penn State and feeling that feeling of knowing that you just hit a really good routine, that's probably the best experience of my life."

12474818.jpeg

By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- At the beginning of each meet, the Penn State women's gymnastics team does a spirited "P-S-U" cheer to get themselves energized and ready for competition.

On Saturday afternoon, seniors Nicole Medvitz, Christina Postiglione, and Emma Sibson were the three loudest gymnasts in the group huddle. This is because it was a special meet for each of them - it would be their final meet to cap off their time at historic Rec Hall.

"I thought we did great today," Medvitz said. "We came out here and it wasn't our best vaulting rotation, but we went to bars and we stuck so many dismounts. The energy was so high and we took that to each event. It was probably the most fun meet I ever had." 

It was the final home meet of the season and each Nittany Lion delivered a strong and heartwarming performance in their 195.200-193.525 win against Pittsburgh.

For Medvitz, it was a meet that she will never forget. The Paramus, N.J. native opened up the meet by performing her last routine on vault in Rec Hall. She finished with a 9.575 to place tenth. But on the next event, the uneven parallel bars, she delivered a great score of 9.825 to place third. 

"Nicole [Medvitz] on bars, she was lights out tonight," interim co-head coach Josh Nilson said. "That's what we see in the gym, and it was absolutely fantastic. [I'm] very proud of her." 

From there, she excelled on her final event of the evening, balance beam. Medvitz performed a near flawless performance to place first with a 9.875.

"It feels great [to place with those scores]," Medvitz said. "I always love when I can help my team out in any way that I can, and just to end on a great note, it feels amazing."

Since her freshman year, Medvitz has competed in every one of Penn State's meets, minus one during her sophomore year. Normally she simply goes through each event, but Saturday evening was different.

"It was pretty crazy just thinking that it's my last time walking in [Rec Hall] and my last time competing, but I just wanted to enjoy every moment, look around and take some extra time to just be grateful for what I have here and everything that I've been given," Mevitz said. 

Though Postiglione and Sibson didn't compete, they were embracing all the energy from the crowd and were supporting their teammates the entire time. 

"What we told [the girls] to focus on was to just "enjoy it, absolutely enjoy it," Nilson said. "Tonight is the night for the seniors. Tonight is the night for the team. And they did that. They did a beautiful job"

12445048.jpegBy Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - During the school year, sophomore Mason Hosek, freshman Tess McCracken, and senior Emma Sibson are normally over 1,300 miles away from their hometowns in Texas. This Sunday, however, these three Nittany Lions will be returning back to their Texas home as the Penn State women's gymnastics team takes on Sacramento State, Texas Woman's University and Western Michigan in the team's second quad-meet of the season.

"It's going to be really cool [competing in Texas]." Sibson said. "There's going to be a lot of people there that Tess, Mason and I, have all grown up with, not just competing but watching their meets. A lot of little girls that go to the gyms that we went to will be there too, so that will be a lot of fun...I know a few girls from my gym are coming, a few family friends and my mom. I've been getting Facebook messages from a whole bunch of people back home who are excited to come to the meet."

For other Penn State gymnasts, it might be new for them to compete at the Kitty Magee Arena at Texas Woman's University, but for these three gymnasts, they're just taking a trip back to a familiar gym.

"I've competed in that arena year after year after year," Hosek said. "We had State there almost every year, so it's kind of going back home for me, which is nice, but at the same time, I'm really excited to do it as a college gymnast and for everybody who hasn't gone to Texas to come with us."

Sibson has also competed in the Kitty Magee Arena multiple times, so she is using that to her advantage.

"We know the equipment pretty well and the layout of the gym," Sibson said. "It's a little bit different where the bars are kind of on a diagonal a little bit. It's also an advantage of letting our team know how the gym is setup and how it runs."

The gym is also a familiar one for McCracken, and although she isn't competing, she is excited for the atmosphere.   

"It will be the same but different because same arena, but different atmosphere and competition style," McCracken said. "I feel like it's going to be really great. I know there are a lot of alumni that are coming to it and that will be a lot of fun. I feel like we're really going to be able to get in there, win and really pull it together by making the small adjustments to do a really good job out there in Texas."

Even with the distance, there will be plenty of Penn State women's gymnastics fans watching the meet to support Hosek, McCracken, Sibson, and the rest of the Nittany Lions.

"I have about 20 people coming to the meet, so it will be a good amount of people and I think it will be really great because it's a pretty small arena, so hopefully, it will be pretty packed," Hosek said. "I'm really excited to go home for a little, have a great time and win."

Every meet, head coach Jeff Thompson knows how prepared and talented these gymnasts are, but by being back in Texas on Sunday, he's putting a little more faith into them.

"Tess won't be competing, but I think it will be exciting for Mason and Emma," coach Thompson said. "They both should be in three events each. Mason has competed at Texas Woman's University, she said like 45 times growing up, so she knows the arena and equipment setup well. I think it will be fun for them to be back in their home state and to have their teammates there. We look for them to do a great job leading us this weekend."

12431251.jpeg

By Anita Nham, 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 afternoon in a double-dual meeting with the men against Ohio State.

Despite a 195.950-195.850 setback against the No.18 Buckeyes, numerous Nittany Lions had stellar performances.

One Nittany Lion in particular that stood out was junior Briannah Tsang, who tied for first in the all-around with Ohio State's Alexis Mattern. With a score of 39.400, Tsang recorded her highest all-around of the season.

"It's really exciting," Tsang said. "I always love improving on my own gymnastics and I'm honored to win the Ann Carr award."

Prior to Saturday evening, her highest all-around score was 39.350 from the first meet of the season against Bowling Green, BYU and Temple, but that wasn't the only record broken during the meet. Tsang also logged her best score on floor exercise this season with a 9.900 to finish second on the event, which tied with sophomore Sabrina Garcia as the team's top score. 

Tsang also placed second on the uneven parallel bars and third on balance beam and vault. 

"Briannah was outstanding," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "Her landings on every event were great and we've been working really hard in the gym on her floor landings. She gets a little bit too excited at previous meets and had a couple problems with dialing down, but she looked calm, poised, and under controlled today, and it paid off. 39.400 in the all-around is a great score."

Another Nittany Lion with an amazing individual performance was Garcia. She finished third in the all-around with 39.325 after coming up first on balance beam (9.875), second on uneven parallel bars (9.900), fourth on floor (9.850) and ninth on vault (9.700). Garcia also earned first place on beam after marking her highest score of the season in that event. 

"I thought we showed a lot of heart and we fought until the end," Garcia said. "For me, I just build off every meet so far, stay calm and focus, and did what I do in practice." 

All of these accomplishments were achieved in front of a white-out crowd with over 2,200 fans.

"The girls love double dual meets," coach Thompson said. "The crowd was outstanding and super loud. The competition was great and we knew it was close. After every event, I told them, 'Just keep plugging away. We're going to come back. We're going to get this team. We're going to catch them.' It looked like that right up to the very last routine and unfortunately, we came up just a little bit short. The girls did a great job and they had a lot of fun doing it." 

Even though Penn State did not get the outcome that it was expecting, there is still a bright future for the team.

"Ohio State was ranked No.18 coming into the meet and we beat them on two events and tied them on bars," coach Thompson said. "We know we need to work on vault. We need to get some better vaults and some better vault landings, but once we do that, that makes us a top-15 team and the [gymnasts] understand that now. They have a lot of confidence moving forward. We'll head to Texas next week for a meet at Texas Women's University and we plan on improving on today's performance."

12425243.jpeg

By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At 13 months old, freshman Tess McCracken's mother knew that her daughter needed to start gymnastics.

 "My mom found me on top of the fridge, so she wanted me to do something with mats underneath me, and she put me into gymnastics," McCracken said.

At 11 years old, McCracken won the all-around, balance beam, and uneven bars titles at the Texas state meet.

At 14 years old, the Plato, Texas native secured the balance beam title, placed second on the uneven bars, and finished third in the all-around at the Texas state meet. She also placed eighth on the balance beam at Junior Olympic Nationals.

All of this was accomplished before her second year of high school. 

"She's from [World Olympic Gymnastics Academy], one of the best gyms in the country," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "One of her teammates was on the Olympic team that just won gold and did quite well for herself." 

While she was in high school, McCracken trained with Madison Kocian, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist. Though McCracken was already a Junior Olympic National Alternate in 2014 and a Junior Olympic National Qualifier in 2015, she knew that having Kocian around would motivate her to continue to improve.

 "Having Olympians in the gym, it kind of gives you someone to look up to in a way that it shows you what you can be and it keep you from being, 'Oh, I'm the best,' and from settling back," McCracken said. "It always gives you more incentive to do more because if they're the same age as you, and they're doing that, then you have that potential, as well." 

After high school, McCracken knew that she wanted to continue her career in gymnastics, but she also wanted to get a world-class education. With both of those in mind, she decided Penn State was the school for her. 

"Tess was looking mostly for academics first then gymnastics," he added.  "A lot of the top gymnasts are looking for 'which of the top 10 gymnast school can I go to?' and then what is the education like. But Tess, she was looking for a world-class education. Her bars and beam were, and still are, amazing, so the combination of her academics, her family's track record in the academic field and then her gymnastics ability is what really attracted us." 

"Penn State made me feel more welcome than any other place that I had visited," McCracken said. "I love the campus and the team, and it's a great school, especially for engineering." 

The gymnast would soon learn that being a student-athlete comes with a rigorous schedule, including countless hours spent practicing in the gym. Nonetheless, McCracken knew right away that she would have to make time for academics as well as athletics.

"I like math and science," McCracken said. "I'm good at it and I really like it because I've kind of always had a puzzle brain where I just like to figure stuff out, so I knew engineering was the best for that." 

The 5'4 freshman was injured early last semester, so she has had a slow start to this season, but that has not stopped her from pushing to be the best that she can be.

"I feel like [my experience] will keep growing and it will probably get harder, especially with school, but in the gym, I definitely don't want to sit back and let me skills go stagnant," McCracken said.  "I want to keep learning and I feel like the coaches are helping me with that. Also, the injury made me a little more driven because I saw the other girls getting their skills and hitting consistency, and that was when I was supposed to be hitting that, so since I've come back, I've been pushing hard to get up to where they are since I missed out on a month and a half." 

Even with the setback, coach Thompson knows what McCracken is capable of accomplishing. 

"I would love for her to come out and compete on bars and beams every single meet all four years," coach Thompson said. "I would love for her, as time goes on, to get into the floor lineup. She was out for quite a while in the fall, so she's behind everyone and we're not pushing her right now. We're thankful that she was able to compete floor at Illinois. But if she could get to the point where she is the main stay for us on those three events, that would be amazing."

12414005.jpeg

By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State women's gymnastics team was on the final event of the night, the floor exercise. Freshmen Kristen Politz, sophomore Peyton Schuller, junior Oni Timothy, junior Brianna Tsang and senior Emma Sibson all came out and performed beautiful routines.

But the best of the night was from sophomore Sabrina Garcia. She channeled her inner BeyoncĂ© to perform a near flawless routine for a score of 9.90. With her best score of the season, Garcia placed first in the floor exercise and helped Penn State to a victory over Michigan State, 195.925-194.775, in the annual Pink Meet.    

"It's a humbling experience," Garcia said. "I just try to compete like how I train and stay calm. I'm really happy about [my performance]."

Garcia ended the night with a career-best of 39.400 to notch her first career all-around title and the Ann Carr award, given to the most inspirational Penn State gymnast at the meet.

"It feels amazing," Garcia said. "My great grandmother died of breast cancer, so the win was all for her and I'm really proud of it."

The Etters, Pa. native finished second on the vault and uneven parallel bars with a score of 9.850, in each. On the balance beam, Garcia came in fifth for the night with a 9.800, but shined on the floor exercise to share the event title with Michigan State's Elena Lagoski as both scored a 9.900.

"Sabrina had a great meet," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "Sabrina started off on vault with a great stick and a 9.85. She is also on bars every week. I thought she had a chance to score a 10; it was just that she hopped on her dismount just a little bit and went 9.850. Her beam was amazing and her floor was the best floor routine she's done so far this year."

Though this was Garcia's first all-around title, coach Thompson always knew that she had that potential.

"Sabrina has it in her to do that every single weekend," coach Thompson said. "Sometimes, she just tries too hard. Today, her motto was, "Go out there and have fun," and by doing that, by just going out, doing gymnastics and not thinking too much, she had a great day."

Tsang also made an impact with the third best all-around score of the evening, 39.250.

"I thought it was awesome," Tsang said. "We came together and even if we had a few mishaps here and there, we all grabbed the rope and had each other's backs. It's also always fun having a Pink Meet. We all love wearing pink, so it's nice to be able to recognize the breast cancer survivors." 

In addition, it was a big meet for Penn State as a team. The Nittany Lions logged their season-best score after recording the best scores of the season on the uneven bars (49.125), the balance beam (48.875) and the floor exercise (49.100). 

"I'm really proud of the girls today and the way they performed," coach Thompson said. "Today was the first meet we didn't count a fall all season...the fact that we went out and hit 23 out of 24 routines, that's the real measuring stick, and hitting under pressure. When someone falls early in the lineup and everyone else can hit their routines, that shows that that team is well-trained and they're where they need to be at this point in the year."

Even with the team's season-best score, they still have much to do before the women's and men's gymnastics teams host their second double-dual of the season next Saturday.

"We were pretty close to a 196, which is our goal right now, so every week, we're getting better. We're making progress and we just need to continue to make more and more progress before Ohio State.

12408617.jpeg

By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "When I was younger, I had no interest in gymnastics." 

Freshman Mikayla Waddell started practicing gymnastics when she was five years old. Her parents, Tom and Lori Waddell, owned a gymnastics facility in South Jersey, so she grew up working on the sport of gymnastics at an early age.

However, she was not fond of it. It wasn't until she started watching the other gymnasts perform their routines did she start to see how exciting gymnastics was.

"I was watching the older girls, and I was like, "That's so cool to watch all the flips and stuff. I want to do that because flips are cool," Waddell said. "As a six-year-old, I thought it was so cool that the girls were flying and flipping on things." 

Her passion for gymnastics grew throughout her childhood. When Waddell was in high school, she started showing what she was capable of doing in the gym as she trained at ENA Paramus under coaches Craig and Jen Zappa. In 2013, she captured the balance beam title at the level 10 regional meet and received a bronze medal in the all-around with a score of 37.15. 

She didn't stop there. In the 2014 level 10 regional, she was the all-around, balance beam and vault champion. Waddell finished up the season at the 2014 Junior Olympic National meet, placing fourth on the beam and seventh on the vault. 

12128361.jpeg"Mikayla has an uncanny ability on balance beam," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "She seems like she never wobbles. For her, it's like the balance beam is two feet wide instead of four inches wide. That's the first thing we noticed about her, and then her talent on vault and floor."

During her final year of high school, Waddell continued to show how dominant she was in gymnastics.

"She's incredibly powerful and she set herself apart from most of the other kids in her age group," coach Thompson said. 

When it was time for Waddell to decide where she wanted to go for college, it wasn't a hard decision because she fell in love with Penn State right away. 

"I took a tour of campus, watched a practice and just fell in love with how everybody is one big family," Waddell said. "Everyone has so much pride for Penn State. Everyone just loves being here and is so happy. On the tour, I could definitely see myself being here. You just feel it. You just know what it's the right place."

And she hasn't regretted her decision since becoming a Nittany Lion. 

I thought it was going to be a lot harder to transition, but my teammates and coaches made it so easy," Waddell said. "Adjusting was pretty good and very positive, which was not what I was expecting."

It also helps to have someone you know on the team. Waddell and senior Nicole Medvitz used to practice at the same gym together in New Jerseyand that early connection helped with her move to Happy Valley. 

"My freshman year of high school was Nicole's senior year, so I got a year with her, and that was really fun, especially once I took an interest in Penn State," Waddell said. "She always told me to go to Penn State, but I was like, 'No. I'll never go there. They're too good," but watching her, she was always so good, would always win Nationals, always so confident and happy all the time. I was like, 'That's what I want to do, that's how I want to be.' I looked up to her a lot. Then coming here, she helped me adjust to everything, get used to college and made the transition so much easier."

 Last weekend, in the fourth meet of the season at Illinois, Waddell made her collegiate debut. She scored a 9.475 on vault and a 9.675 on balance beam. 

"Last weekend, Tess (McCracken) competed for the first time on floor and hit," coach Thompson said. "Mikayla competed for the first time on vault and beam and hit. Kristen (Politz) hit all four events, so freshmen hit nine out of 10 routines. They got experience even though the score was low. Not having the experience, I thought they did well."

Waddell is excited to be at Rec Hall this weekend for the annual Pink Meet, and to perform some new routines.

"I'm expecting Rec Hall to be more fun than last weekend just because we're home and we have a bunch of fans there," Waddell said. "Heading into this week, I'm doing three events instead of just two, so I'm more excited and less nervous than I was last week because I get to do more this time."

 The Ridgewood, N.J. native never thought she would be doing collegiate gymnastics when she was younger, but now, all she can focus on is her future.

"My goals for the rest of the semester are to stay healthy, stay happy, hit my routines in competition and get better each meet to help the team."

12390024.jpeg

By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 'Mommy and Me' classes.

 

That's what started it all for freshman Kristen Politz.

 

Politz began to practice gymnastics with her mother when she was four years old. Soon after attending the classes, she fell in love with the sport and had no desire to stop.

 

"I love always improving, getting new skills and just trying to get better each week," Politz said.

 

Even at a young age, it was evident that Politz was an extremely talented gymnast. She continually practiced and at 12 years old, she had qualified for the Level 10 USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic National Championship meet six-consecutive times. During her senior year of high school, she was named the 2016 New Jersey Optional Gymnast of the Year across the Levels 7, 8, 9 and 10. She also captained her high school gymnastics team, at Saint John Vianney, to a second-place finish at the New Jersey State Championships.

 

"We started watching her when she was in eighth grade and just really liked what we saw," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We watched her improve, progress and go from the Junior Olympic level to the Elite level for a little while before she came back to level 10.  If I had to pick one thing about Kristen, the best would have to be her consistency in competition. It seemed like even if she had bad warm ups or the coach may have said she had a bad week, she was always able to step up under pressure and hit. That's the main thing for us - to get out there in a leotard in front of 5,000 people, be confident and hit your routines."

 

Nonetheless, it wasn't just gymnastics that held Politz's focus; she was actively involved in academics. In high school, she was named one of 30 New Jersey State Scholar-Athletes, held a four-year place on the Honor Roll of Distinction, was in the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society and won the 2016 President's Education Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence.

 

"My high school accomplishments made me more confident coming into Penn State and I think a lot of the things I was able to achieve in high school helped me to be where I am at this point," Politz said.

 

She continues to show that as a Nittany Lion.

 

"The thing that separates Kristen from the other freshmen is her leadership ability," coach Thompson said. "She got accepted into the Sapphire Leadership Program here, and it's 50 freshmen that get invited out of 7,000. She's also part of our leadership committee. There's representation from all four classes and she is the freshmen representative."

 

The women's gymnastics team is only three meets into the season, and Politz is showing that she even though she may be young, she brings a lot of experience and skills to all the events.

 

Politz made her collegiate debut in the first meet of the season against BYU, Temple and Bowling Green. She started on the uneven bars and finished with a score of 9.775 to tie for eighth. She also tied for third (9.800) on balance beam and notched second (9.675) on floor.

 

"I like floor the best because there's so much enthusiasm. And I like dancing and having a powerful floor routine," Politz said.

 

In the second meet of the season against Nebraska, Politz completed in her first collegiate all around and finished third overall with a 39.050. She tallied 9.875 on the uneven bars, a 9.625 on the vault, a 9.750 on floor and a 9.800 on the balance beam.

 

"My experience has been amazing," Politz said. "Each meet, I'm learning something new. I just love the team aspect and all the excitement and energy that I get. It's a lot different than the feel in Junior Olympics."

 

When the Nittany Lions collected their fourth win of the season against Maryland, Politz was again there to help. She tied her career-best all around score of 39.050 for second place. She placed fourth in the vault (9.750), uneven bars (9.775), balance beam (9.700) and floor (9.825).

 

Even with the early success, Politz still has some skills that she hopes to build on.

 

"I need to make little improvements here and there to boost our all around score and our team score," Politz said. "I want to continue to be consistent and as a team, I want to try to get up in the rankings. Going into Big Ten's, I want to be really consistent and confident."

 

Outside of gymnastics, this freshman loves to hang out with friends, shop and just relax. But now, she's focused on her success at Penn State.

 

"She's able to look at this as a journey and where she was in the first meet of the year isn't where she plans to be at the end of the year, and most freshmen don't get that," coach Thompson said. "She's very mature for her age and we're glad she's here."

@GOPSUSPORTS

  • Loading Tweets...
    1 second ago
 
OPEN / CLOSE

SCHEDULE/EVENTS