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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The NCAA Championships on the schedule means the biggest weekend in collegiate gymnastics is here, and there will be a Nittany Lion present to represent the Blue and White.

Freshman Lauren Bridgens advanced to the NCAA Championships after tying for third with an all-around score of 39.200 at Penn State's NCAA Regional Championships meet on April 7. Bridgens' scores throughout the day landed her the privilege of traveling to nationals, and she will be competing as an individual, separate from her own squad, alongside the Arkansas gymnastics team.

The freshman from Maryland has had one incredible rookie season.  During her first year as a Nittany Lion, Bridgens was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week five times, tallied the first perfect 10 on the uneven bars in program history in a meet at BYU, and won 14 titles. She was also named a First Team All-Big Ten in early March. Most recently, Bridgens garnered regular season All-America honors from the National Association of College Gymnastics Coaches for Women (NACGC/W)

Despite the prestigious competition fast-approaching, the team and coaching staff have full confidence in Bridgens. Her confidence as an athlete and successes have proven her worthy of the honor.

"Lauren's a really level-headed kid," head coach Sarah Brown said. "As long as she's having fun, she's going to compete really well. I do think it's going to be a little more nerve-wracking for her, because she doesn't have her team and her best friends there to support her, but I think the staff is going to do a good job making sure that she can stay mellow and flexible. Competing as an individual is challenging, but I'm excited to be rotating with Arkansas. I know that they're going to be welcoming and incredibly encouraging to her, so I hope that she creates new friendships and feels like she's a part of a team in a way,"

Competing as an individual can seem like an intimidating feat, especially when traveling to an unfamiliar location, but Bridgens seems level-headed and ready.

"I don't think she's going to have a hard time with at all," Brown said. "As soon as she gets out on the competitive floor I think she's going to do her thing and hold her own. She belongs at the national championship and I know that she's not going to be intimidated by the gymnastics being done there because she's proven herself throughout the entire season." 

"I feel even more excited going into the next three years knowing how much we can accomplish," Bridgens said. "We have a lot of potential, and it makes me super excited for the future. I don't really know a lot of girls on Arkansas' team, so I'm hoping that they'll welcome me with open arms so I can make a lot of new friends." 

An individual competitor's training varies from her normal practicing, so Bridgens' coaches and teammates are making sure the gymnast is supported entirely and warming up properly, as her warm-up time will be different in competition mode.

"They have been amazing," Bridgens said. "They have all been coming in every day and supporting me and trying to put a little bit of pressure on me in practice so that I'm prepared going into the meet. Our trainers have been getting me treatment every day, so everybody has been doing everything they can, and that's part of why I'm so excited to go and represent Penn State." 

While this is a big meet for the freshman, she is no stranger to intense meets. 

Prior to becoming a Division I collegiate athlete, Bridgens competed for a prestigious club team, and performed in Level 10 competitions and Junior Olympic Nationals among other high-level competitions. 

"She's been a part of large competitions before, but I think being up on the podium at the Big Ten championship was a really great preparation for her going into nationals," Brown said. "It's going to be something she can take back to the team and share with them so that they can get excited about their future and hopefully get the entire team there next year." 

"I feel like they prepared me a lot, because obviously there is a little bit of pressure going into a higher-level meet, but also competing at a high level before college will help me stay calm," Bridgens said."  

Bridgens admits it will be bittersweet without her team by her side, but she knows they're there in spirit.  She looks forward to sharing her experience with her teammates and hopes to return to encourage her team and hopefully see the national championships in the coming years. 

"My mindset going in is just to learn a lot," Bridgens said. I'm going more for the experience. I obviously want to do my best, but I also want to have fun and learn things that I can bring back to the team." 

While Brown has been to NCAA Championships as a former gymnast, this will be her first time taking the floor at such an event as a coach. Her excitement for Bridgens shines through.

"Its an amazing event. The way the whole championship is run from the way the practice and competition is held. I think being in the arena and seeing that is just going to make her hungrier for the future," Brown said. "As a staff, we've worked really hard to get to. I'm honored to be there and proud of Lauren, and I think it's going to be a great wrap up to the year, but we're already excited looking toward the future and getting ready for next year." 

Bridgens has a lot to look forward to post-competition as well. She will stay the next day following the championships to observe the Super Six competition, comprised of some of the most skilled and elite gymnasts in the nation, including many Olympians. 

"That's the goal, to be one of the top teams, so I'm kind of going to be fan-girling a little bit at that point!" Bridgens said. "It's going to be so much fun and such a crazy experience."

As they put the finishing touches on Bridgens' training and preparations, the Nittany Lions are looking forward to what the future holds. 

 "I think this speaks volumes as to what we have upcoming for this entire team and where our level of talent is," Brown said. "Lauren has been leading the team as a freshman this entire season athletically, but I would love to see her emerge as more of a vocal leader. Her class in general is really strong, so I think our future is really bright and Lauren is kind of leading the way for that."

Bridgens will take the floor with Arkansas at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis on April 20.

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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On Saturday, Rec Hall was packed with women's gymnastics fans representing schools like the University of Florida, Arizona State and even the University of Washington, but the colors that stood out the most were Blue and White.

 

"Tonight was a really big night for us," head coach Sarah Brown said on her team hosting a 2018 NCAA Regional meet. "I thought there was an incredible environment here at Rec Hall and I'm very very thankful for all of the work that went into promoting this competition. It was a great competition. There was some really high-level gymnastics here."

 

As the hosts of the 2018 NCAA Northeast Regional Championships, the Penn State women's gymnastics team welcomed the University of Florida, University of Washington, Arizona State, West Virginia University and University of New Hampshire. With scores of 197.725 and 196.275, Florida and Washington secured the top of the podium to win overall and advance to the NCAA Championships as a team.

 

Rec Hall also gave a platform to individual competitors from Yale, Bridgeport, Rutgers, Temple and Penn who the Nittany Lions welcomed into their own gymnastics community.

 

"The gymnastics community is a small community and we are a really tight knit community," Brown said. "For those individuals who did rotate with us, they are here by themselves and so our hearts go out to them and we want to make sure that we give them a warm welcoming environment...so we do our best to get to know their names and we try to learn parts of their floor routine if we can and just try to cheer them on and make them feel like they are at home as much as they are because they are representing their universities incredibly well and they should be very proud to be here."

 

Although the Penn State Nittany Lions did not qualify as team, they will be sending one of their own to the NCAA Women's Gymnastics National Championships to represent the Blue and White like the individual competitors did for their respective schools on Saturday at NCAA Regionals.

 

Freshman Lauren Bridgens made her mark as she climbed the podium to third with her 39.200 all-around performance.

 

"I was pretty proud of it [on her performance]," Bridgens said. "A few things here and there to kind of fix, but overall I am pretty proud of myself and I couldn't thank my team enough for just the support and the energy in here was amazing today so I think that was what really helped me."

 

In her last and best event of the day, Bridgens laid out a one and a half, a stuck landing and a 9.900 score on vault.

 

"She said she was feeling good so we let her go with the one and a half and she just showed how amazing she is," Brown said. "She stuck it...I was so proud of the way she closed out the competition." 

 

Bridgens credited her energy and dynamic performance to the support of the Rec Hall crowd and her team.

 

"So, coming in like all the upperclassmen they are always giving us advice and leading us in the right direction," Bridgens said. "I don't always know where I'm going so just to have someone to lead you in the right direction is always good and the support from this team is amazing."

 

One standout gymnast has led by doing.

 

Although senior Briannah Tsang did not qualify for the championships in two weeks, she had a consistent and dynamic all-around performance that will be remembered by her teammates, especially the younger Bridgens.

 

"I tried to remind her [Tsang] was that one routine doesn't define who you are and doesn't define the mark that you left on this program," Brown said. "She's been an incredible leader for us. She's part of the reason why Lauren is seeing this success that she is because Bri has done such a good job in leading her so I'm proud of Bri."

 

Tsang's 9.850 bar performance was one of the highest Penn State scores of the day.

 

On Saturday, Rec Hall witnessed a passing of the torch from Tsang's legacy as a senior to Bridgen's future as a returning sophomore.

 

But before the Nittany Lions look to next season, the Penn State women's gymnastics team will send Bridgens as an individual competitor to the NCAA Championships on April 20 and April 21 in the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

"The seasons not over yet," Bridgens said.

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the first time since 2014, Penn State University will serve as the host for an NCAA Regionals meet this Saturday, April 7. This marks the 14th time in school history that the university has had the honor of hosting, but the first-ever time hosting an NCAA Regional for new head coach Sarah Brown.

"I have to say I was a was little bit nervous about knowing we were hosting, being my first year here at Penn State," Brown said. "But the staff at Rec hall is amazing. They've hosted championships before, and everybody involved from sports information to marketing to ticketing, even our medical staff--everyone has been incredible. They come to our planning meetings prepared and organized, so I honestly feel like I've let the staff run the championship the way they want to, because they've done a great job in the past. I'm so grateful to have their help this year so I can focus on coaching and preparing the team." 

Penn State has competed every year in the regional format since its inception in 1982.

"We want to make sure we're just being ourselves," Brown said on competing in the meet. "We're really comfortable in Rec Hall, so we haven't talked a lot about format or changes because we know how it's going to be set up. The underclassmen are really prepared for post-season now that they've seen a little bit of everything, between double-duals, being at Big Fives, and being on podium at Big Tens. We're lucky to be starting on bars, which is a strong rotation for us and something that we've already practiced this year, so I think they're going to be prepared and excited for a great weekend."

It will be a change of pace in Rec Hall with such a large presence from other universities. 

The Nittany Lions, currently ranked at No. 29, will host No. 5 Florida, No. 8 Washington, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 27 West Virginia and No. 30 New Hampshire, with the top two teams earning a berth into the NCAA Championship field on April 20-21 in St. Louis, Missouri. 

"Last week we broke down the routines a little bit," Brown said. "We didn't do as many full sets, we did a lot of drills and timers and tried to focus in on the details to clean things up. I think that took a lot of the pressure off mentally, in making sure that the girls were able to relax a bit.' 

The athletes are feeling refreshed and ready to go after working hard in the gym at their weekly practices, as well as taking some time off for the Easter holiday to enjoy with their family and friends. In addition to preparing the athletes, Brown is taking extra time to prepare herself and her fellow coaching staff, as well. 

"I've had to lean on everybody's areas of expertise and tried to let them lead the way in what they know will make for a good championship," Brown said. "As far as Rob [Drass] and Dallas [Becerra] go, they've been in a handful of postseason events, so we've talked about preparing the girls for a little bit of a different structure in the warm-up time." 

The regional will be comprised of six teams, five all-around competitors - who did not qualify with a team - and one individual event specialist per event were named to each of the six predetermined host sites. In knowing that there will be individual event specialists rotating in amongst the Nittany Lions, the athletes are eager to be good hosts and welcome their fellow competitors into the rotation so that they feel comfortable and at home. 

"I think it makes it feel a little bit more exciting knowing that it is a regional championship," Brown said. "There's going to be a lot more advertising for the NCAA and not just Penn State, so we know that we're going to feel a little bit of a difference. We are lucky enough to have a regional practice day on Friday, so we're happy to have another opportunity to be in Rec Hall before the meet."

After wrapping up the regular season and kicking off the postseason on the road for the past five weeks, the Nittany Lions are ready to finally take on their home base at Rec Hall once more, with the comfort of their home campus allowing the gymnasts to rest up in a familiar environment and maintain composure.

"I'm really looking forward to building upon the success that we've had this season," Brown said. "It takes a lot to get to know sixteen different personalities when you walk in. Now we're so comfortable with each other, but now we're going to have a lot higher expectations because we know what these athletes are capable of and how hard they've worked to get where they are."

 

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's rare for a coaching staff to be as cohesive and work as well together in its first full-time year together--but that's exactly how Penn State's women's gymnastics rolls.

 

When head coach Sarah Brown took over the reins this past year, she brought with her two trusty sidekicks from her past: assistant coaches Rob Drass and Dallas Becerra.

 

"When I took over in May, there were a lot of changes that I saw that needed to be me made with the program initially," Brown said. "The most important thing for me was getting to know the athletes and getting a good staff on board. Because there were so many changes that I had been going through personally and so many changes I felt the program needed, I thought it was most important to have people around me that I could trust, and people that knew me the best."

 

The trio has an interesting history in their web of connections.

 

Brown first met Drass, who graduated from Penn State, between her sixth and seventh grade years as a gymnast. After going through a personal coach transition, Brown came to Missouri looking for a place to train, where Drass, who was there at the time, took her under his wing. Their relationship was strong and Drass saw her talent, eventually becoming Brown's head coach when she pursued her collegiate career in Mizzou.

 

"We've seen each other at our best, we've seen each other at our worst, and we know how to read each other," Drass said. "For me, the attraction coming back to Penn State was partly being an alumnus, and helping Sarah restore Penn State gymnastics to its rightful place, and I get to work with someone who I look at as a super person who does things for the right reasons."

 

Meanwhile, Becerra was a diver at University of Missouri, a shared alma mater with Brown, and left diving behind to become a gymnastics coach. He ended up getting to know Brown at a gymnastics club where she quickly became his mentor.   After a few years apart, the two reconnected. Prior to taking on her role at Penn State, Brown served as head coach at Eastern Michigan, where she worked side-by-side with Becerra once again.

 

For Brown, her past relationships were key in building this staff.

 

"Dallas and I had a really good working relationship, so immediately I knew that he would be a great fit," Brown said. "Rob and I had talked for years about potentially working together again.  Then, I was fortunate enough to be his director of operations while I was in grad school, so we had worked together on different levels in the past. I felt like since he was a Penn State alum, and someone who really understood what Penn State was about, and the timing happened to work out well, and he was kind enough to join me on staff. It's been really fun and we all balance each other really well."

 

"We can all look at each other and we all know exactly what the other one's thinking and what the other one needs," Becerra said.  "In the gym one of us might be tougher and the other one might be there to give the TLC, so I think us being so close helps everything flow."

 

The three have been together in Happy Valley for nearly a year now, and they've adjusted to the change as a unit.

 

"Sarah's divvied up the responsibilities for each event so that there's one person that oversees it," Drass said. "Then we all collaborate and talk about each all the time, because the more eyes looking at something the better. We have a very seamless interaction, because we all were friends before, we all knew each other, and it makes it really easy when you work in a place you're very comfortable with where you don't have to feel out the relationships and you know how to be straightforward."

 

For the two assistants, the collaboration with each other is huge. 

 

"I think it's great to have someone like Dallas," Drass said. "As someone who's been working in this for a while, he keeps me fresh and looking at things from a different perspective, and most of the time it's the way the athletes see things."


"It's really helpful that we can all look at each other and know exactly what the other one's thinking or what the other one needs," Becerra added. "Rob's experience definitely helps me because he's done this year after year, so there may be things I'm thinking that I want to do, but he can give me that advice."

 

While the staff had a familiarity, there was still the challenge of getting used to new athletes. 

 

"Until you see everybody in each situation, it's hard to know how they tick," Drass said. "But once the championship season starts, the meet season starts, the inner squad starts--all those things help to learn and peel back the layers of the athletes. As a staff, we're learning how to respond to them, and moving forward we're going to get so much better at it."

 

Freshmen Kourtney Chinnery and Ava Verdeflor, two newcomers, had a great deal of talent in combination with some nerves about the new atmosphere. The two agreed that the stellar coaching staff made the experience better in every aspect.

 

"They've helped us adjust to college in general, and not just the sport but the transition with everything," Chinnery said. "College gymnastics is way different; school is way different. So, we have to work hard in school so we can compete. They really have helped with our mindset and our growth as people."

 

As the athletes have gotten used to their new environment, the closeness of the staff has been key.

 

"There's a formal aspect of the coaching vs. team, but we're also all really close," Verdeflor said. "They know that they work well together. They each bring several different things to the table, and it's just the perfect combination."

 

That perfect combination has led to a gymnastics family.

 

"This season, we came in a little unsure of how things would go, but we knew we were in it together," Brown said.  "It has become much more like the feel of a family, and I think going into next season there's going to be more opportunity to learn and grow, and I think we're going to get to a point even more where don't even have to look at each other and we know." 

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With its final meet of the regular season this weekend, the Penn State women's gymnastics team is seeing its hard work pay off in preparation for Big Fives. 

"The quad meets we've been competing in the past few meets have symbolized the energy that we're going to have," head coach Sarah Brown said. "Being on the floor with four teams has a whole different vibe to it, and I can even speak back to the double duals as a way to help prepare us for post-season going into the Big Fives and Big Tens." 

In addition to three consecutive season-best scores, Brown has spent the past year really getting to know her team and watching them progress into the cohesive squad they are becoming.

"I think at the beginning of the year we were still trying to figure out all of the athletes, and each week we were doing something different and we were making progress, but it still hadn't come together yet," Brown said. "Multiple times I've said 'this was our most complete meet, but I know we have more in us' and then I say it again. It's been great to watch them grow." 

The key to Brown is observing the gymnasts and seeing what needs work and where their heads are at.

"We check in with where our energy level is after each event, whether it's good or bad, and then channeling the energy that we need moving to the next event, because one doesn't depend upon the other," Brown said. "I think for some of the athletes that's helped them to break it down a little bit, and makes the meet feel not so big or overwhelming, but helped them realize that in this moment, 'this is the energy I need.' Once we started zoning in on that, I think right around the GW meet is when things started to take off for us." 

Penn State's meet against George Washington on February 24 marked the team's second meet of the season tallying a score of above 196.000-or-higher. The meet also consisted of individual season highs for Nittany Lion gymnasts on vault, floor, and all-around. 

"I think we've always known our potential, but it's cool to see that every single week we've gotten a little bit better," junior Gianna LaGuardia said. "It's definitely building our confidence, so we can go into Big Fives feeling pretty confident." 

Against Ohio State on February 9, LaGuardia finished third on vault with a season-high 9.875 after taking some time off from competing to nurse a foot injury.

"I think confidence has a huge thing to do with it," LaGuardia said. "It means a lot to do really well in one meet, and when I came back from an injury, it wasn't even muscle memory, it was just believing that you have it. At this point in the season, you just have to know that you have it in you. The whole team's confidence is so helpful."

"Gigi really hit her stride," Brown said. "She had an ankle injury and was out for a couple of meets on vault and we were only able to put up five. Having her back has brought so much confidence to the lineup, just knowing that she's a great vaulter and taking the pressure off of the five lineup. She loves competing for this team and she's doing an amazing job right now. She's giving everything I could've asked for." 

Another factor in composure in competition and a confidence boost, a few switch-ups of rotations and routines has helped keep the gymnasts on their toes and ready for various potential set-ups they may face. 

"We pretty much have had every rotation possible right now except for starting on floor," LaGuardia said. "That's really nice going into Big Five and Big Tens, so we're prepared for pretty much any scenario at this point." 

This weekend's Big Five Meet will consist of a bye rotation, meaning the Nittany Lions will experience an extra rotation where they won't be competing. The five rotations instead of their usual four will be a new experience for the team this season. Another change the Penn State squad has integrated into their routine is an adjustment in the beam lineup, now leading with two freshman followed by two sophomores.

"You never know what you're going to get with freshman," Brown said. "Obviously Lauren [Bridgens] and Alissa [Bonsall] had a really great start to their season, and both of them have had bumps along the way, but they're in a really good place right now. Kourtney [Chinnery] has been consistent for us on vault which is great, and I couldn't be prouder of Ava [Verdeflor] for stepping up in the beam lineup in the middle of the season. It's not often that you change the lead-off on beam, and that you put a brand new person in in the middle of the year. We are a young team, but I think the more they compete with each other, the more confident they get." 

The Nittany Lions have built from a 194.275 in the season-opener to a season-best, a 196.675, against BYU last weekend.

"With every meet, we've gotten better with our scores, and a lot of that is coming from our mentality in the gym," sophomore Kristen Politz said. "Not just trusting yourself, but believing in your teammates, and that's shown in every meet. Everyone has had each other's back and we've had incredible scores individually and that's created better team scores each weekend. Ultimately, we've gotten more confident getting out there and giving it our all." 

"It comes down to confidence for the whole team," LaGuardia agrees. "Seeing what we do in the gym finally paying off in a meet is great. Some days you have a bad day in the gym, and that weekend you see where it's coming from. The work in the gym definitely shows."

Even with a couple of consecutive wins, the Nittany Lions know they are capable of reaching higher. They see their challenges ahead, and approach them with unity and confidence.

"Post-season is definitely different than regular season, but if you try not to make it seem bigger than it is you can stay more focused," Politz said. "But the excitement makes it that much more powerful in the post-season, so I'm super excited to experience it for the second time and hopefully let my nerves go a little bit more than I probably did my freshman year now that I've had that experience."

Against BYU, Politz achieved her personal season-best on uneven bars, but isn't letting the recent accomplishment get in the way of her focus.

 "If anything, we just take the confidence we've had from that meet, and we can definitely improve on floor and vault for sure," Politz said. "That momentum that we built on our bar rotation was incredible, so hopefully we can keep going up from that. Ultimately, it was a really great meet for us, and especially a meet so far away with less fans. Being back in our home area should be super exciting."

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's and men's gymnastics teams may be known for their flips, sticks, and landings in the gym, but the teams are also highly renowned in another, arguably more important category- their academics. 

With such a prestigious gymnastics program and standard Penn State sets for its student-athletes, the university emphasizes the importance of having academic support on campus. The gymnastics teams are linked to Sarah Cowart, their academic advisor who is their right-hand person for anything academic, career development, or study related. Both head coach Sarah Brown of the women's squad, and men's head coach Randy Jepson, work closely alongside Cowart and their athletes to ensure a close relationship and involvement between student and advisor. 

 "Sarah has been great in that she understands the kind of give and take of the different majors we have," Jepson said. "We have a lot of engineers, biomedical engineers and that kind of thing. Certain times of the year they have a pretty regimented curriculum." 

"She helps with our guys when they are going on the road and helping them get those excuse letters out so there is a good correspondence with the professors and those kinds of things," he added.  "Rescheduling exams too, she's even organized exams to be proctored on the road if they had to be. There is a whole host of things that are really appreciated by our guys." 

The men's team consists of many student-athletes in tough majors, including redshirt junior Noah Roberson. A stellar competitor on the squad, Roberson is a double-major in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering. Roberson took 19 credits this past semester, and is also a member of Shreyers Honors College while maintaining his 4.0 GPA. He has earned a number of prestigious academic and athletic awards through the NCAA and Big Ten.   

Out of last semester's 21 male gymnasts, 13 made Dean's List, with many pursuing a number of engineering and pre-med majors.

"Sarah's been a great help with keeping us as a whole and me organized with classes we have to take and being on track towards not only graduating but meeting NCAA requirements and such," Roberson said. "It's good having that resource at your back to kind of make up for any mistake you have."

 

This summer, Roberson has been given the opportunity to work with prosthetics at Stryker, a medical devices and equipment manufacturing company. He hopes this internship will also call upon his gymnastics background and interests. In the past, he has also interned with Delphi Technologies.


"She has access to basically watch what we do and make moves academically," he added. "So, she makes sure we are taking the right classes, make sure we are eligible, she's texting us talking to us when she's see something come up right away. She's been really on top of that."

 

The men's squad isn't the only group with challenging degrees, as the women's team is right there with them.  Amber Autry is a junior majoring in kinesiology, Alissa Bonsall and Tess McCracken are both taking on biomedical engineering, senior Brianna Tsang is a biobehavioral health major, and Kourtney Chinnery studies biology, to name a few.

"Sarah Cowart is a huge part of our team's academic success," Brown said on Cowart with her athletes.  "She assists with scheduling classes around practice time and guides our athlete through the necessary steps to be prepared for graduation. We are so thankful for all that she does."

The student-athletes, both men and women, spend a large amount of their time in Morgan Academic Center, a student-athlete specific study space and academic advising hub, where Cowart is headquartered. The building, which opened up for student-athletes in 2015, houses a team of academic advisors, sports psychologists, and other academic specialists supports all 31 Division I teams at Penn State. The staff's goals are academic preparedness, supporting them day-to-day in and out of the classroom, study skills, what classes will work best with their athletes, etc.

Cowart specifically works with men's soccer, wrestling, and men's and women's gymnastics.

Her role begins as soon as freshmen student-athletes come in, when she meets with them once a week to make sure their schedules work, their time management is under control, and what the semester ahead is looking like. 

McCracken has her hands full between gymnastics and her rigorous major, and the extra help has been huge for her. 

"This semester I'm taking my first biomedical class and it's the hardest class I've ever taken," she said. "The coaches are really accommodating and Sarah was extremely understanding and helpful and just really helped to work around practice to make sure I was focused on school."

Despite having a number of student-athletes under her care, Cowart believes in specialized plans and individualization for each of them.

"Everyone's different when they come in," Cowart said. "Everyone comes in with a different academic background and learning style. When you come in as a student-athlete, I don't think your background and your sport matters specifically, because each student is different, and every case is going to be different."

Through advising, Cowart organizes individualized tutoring programs, where she says that key components include honing in on study skills that a student might have missed in high school or even middle school. She serves as a secondary advisor to each student-athlete's specific college advisor, who focuses on their major specifically. Cowart is their first call if they need anything academically, especially on heavier or more stressful weeks. In addition, she not only helps with major selection for undecided athletes, but also finding what they're passionate about and pushing them towards grad school or a job right after college. 

"Sarah's a much more specific advisor, she's the one that we go to with all of our classes and she helps us organize it around our practice schedule," McCracken said. "She is great with pertaining to the fact that we're student-athletes as well as just students and that's helpful as well. On the team, we all hold each other accountable to make sure that we're completing like we need to. If we miss study hall hours, the whole team is held responsible because we are a team, not just a bunch of individuals. We want everyone to succeed." 

Cowart's mantra is to keep the student-athletes focused, organized, and committed to all their responsibilities, following into graduation time.

 "We know that gymnastics is going to end, so what does that five to ten-year plan look like after gymnastics is over?" Cowart said. "We want to prepare them for making an impact after they walk out the door at Penn State, and it comes down to them as an individual person."

Overall, Cowart is confident in the strong set of gymnasts that she is proud to work with at Penn State.

 "It comes down to the recruiting, the student-athletes we recruit, and what our students stand for and value," Cowart said. "And I highly believe that our students not only value being student-athletes, but also students." 

"They know that not only will they come to Penn State with an amazing athletic experience, but also a Penn State degree," she added.  "As a whole, both gymnastics teams really strive hard to succeed in the classroom. They put in a phenomenal number of hours in study hall, not only completing study hours and homework, but also meeting with tutors and mentors. They really strive to meet their goals and they set the bar high. It comes down to what they want to do in life."

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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - According to the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), athletic trainers are health care professionals who provide prevention, emergency and rehabilitation services for injuries and other medical conditions. The athletic training staff that supports the Penn State men and women's gymnastics teams embody NATA's mission by going above and beyond for the athletes representing the Blue and White.

 

"They are just completely instrumental in our success there's no question," men's gymnastics head coach Randy Jepson said. "I mean every guy right now has something and they put in hours beyond hours and deal with each guy and give them the utmost care. They do just a great job."

 

Meet two of the most pivotal pieces to the Penn State gymnastics programs: athletic trainers Sarah Thompson and Ally Roark.

 

For the past three years, Thompson has been the primary trainer for the female gymnasts who come to Penn State to compete in Rec Hall. This season Thompson treats all 14 gymnasts representing the Blue and White.

 

"It's amazing that we're able to have a full-time, certified athletic trainer with our sport all the time," first year women's head coach Sarah Brown said. "The amount of work that she does, especially behind the scenes, is unmatched to the amount of work any of us do. She puts in more hours than anybody, and she does it with a smile on her face, and she loves it."

 

Thompson is present for every practice, strength and conditioning session, off-day treatment and rehab stint. She also helps ensure hydration and dietary needs are met for each individual gymnast at home and away meets.

 

"I try to make sure they all know that I'm here for them 24 hours a day with regards to anything," Thompson said.

 

Thompson's dedication to the Penn State women's gymnastic team and her connection with the gymnasts stems from her own experiences as a gymnast at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

"One of my favorite parts of the job and the reason why I do this is because when I was an athlete I got injured a lot and was really close with my trainer and having them go through the whole process of getting injured and seeing them go through those ups and downs and getting them back to eventually competing and what they love to do again is the most satisfying feeling," Thompson said.

 

Thompson's understanding of such a physically and mentally demanding sport also helps her to connect and to gain the trust of her athletes.

 

"I just make myself available all the time, and I try to just be myself," Thompson said. "I don't try to be someone that I'm not, and I think they respect that and that's important to them."

 

Her ability to develop these relationships enables a smoother progression of rehabilitation when athletes land devastating injuries. When junior gymnast Amber Autry injured her knee, Thompson not only worked with Autry's physical needs, but also her mental setbacks that follow with any significant injury.

 

"She's literally our second mom and our best friend, all at the same time," Autry said. "We tell her everything that we need to, when we're having problems, and she always helps us through every struggle that we have, and she's always there."

Although her main focus is treating injuries, Thompson finds the most reward in her ability to watch athletes grow and evolve beyond physical setbacks and the mental obstacles that come with being a student-athlete at such a highly-regarded program.

"Every time we get back on the floor after we've been off for a little while, she's one of our number one cheerleaders on the sideline for us, so excited to finally see us be able to do everything we've been wanting to do all season long," Autry said.

Like Thompson, Roark provides the same dedication and support to the men's gymnastic team as the primary athletic trainer for the team of 19. For the entire training year, she is a staple in the gym, at meets, at physician appointments, and throughout any coaches' meetings.

For Roark's daily routine with the team, communication is essential for the highest level of success and production between all parties involved. She provides a platform of moderation between the athletes, coaches, and physicians that visit once or twice a week or even during scheduled appointments where she provides the transportation.

"They correspond with us about all the stuff that is going on a daily basis and they are just a regular part of the staff," Jepson said. "You know there is a lot of decision making that goes on that includes our coaches but always includes our training staff because what they have to say is primary in the welfare of our athletes."

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This emphasis on communication proved vital throughout the rehabbing process of junior Michael Burn's Achilles. When Burns tore his achilles tendon, he not only went through an exhaustive rehabilitation process, he also experienced the emotional impact of sustaining his first major injury. Roark was there every step of the way.

"Gymnastics is a really hard sport," Roark said. "Especially on your body so seeing them go from an injury to progressing through that and being able to go out and compete and seeing them do really well, it's very rewarding knowing you had a part in that."

Roark's dedication to the Penn State men's gymnastic team did not go unnoticed as Burns took it upon himself to pen his athletic trainer a long thank you note for helping him through a difficult setback in his career.

"After nine long months of recovery, I was able to compete full routines on four of the six events," Burns said. "That never would have happened if Ally hadn't been there to keep me on track, I know that would not have been the case. I just wanted to make sure she knew that I appreciate everything she has done for me throughout my recovery."

From preventative exercises months before the season, to rehabbing throughout meets and practices, Thompson and Roark are the glue and stitches behind the scenes that uphold the athletic legacy of the Blue and White that their athletes represent every season.

"They come in freshman year and you see them grow and change and mature, and then they graduate and go onto bigger and better things," Thompson said. "It's just nice knowing that you had such a huge role in that development and growth."

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Rec Hall was teeming with activity on Saturday, where the women's gymnastics team celebrated not only the final home meet of the regular season, but also the annual senior day, all in addition to the season's second double dual of the season with the men's squad. The No. 28 Penn State women's gymnastics team welcomed the No. 18 George Washington Colonials, and the men's squad faced off to Minnesota. 

Penn State had a week of wins to live up to as the team was coming off a first-place score of 195.325 in a tri-meet against Cornell and Penn last weekend.

Extra pressure was surely riding on Briannah Tsang, the team's lone active senior, on her senior day. However, Tsang has proven time and time again that she works beautifully under pressure--and Saturday was no different. 

Tsang and her Nittany Lion teammates started the day off strong on vault.  

"I definitely have to give it to our coaching," head coach Sarah Brown said. "Rob Drass handles our vaulting and each week he comes in and does the best he can between finding the balance between big vaults and landings. I thought we did a much better job controlling our landings. We also were able to debut another 1.5 from Lauren Bridgens, so to have two vaults in the lineup that start from a 10 is incredible. I just can't say enough about their composure, being that we only have five athletes competing, we really didn't' have room for error, and they handled themselves like pros tonight."

Bridgens also tied a personal record she achieved earlier this month, nabbing another 9.925 on the uneven bars. She was quickly followed with a matched score and flawless performance by junior Sabrina Garcia in the same event. The Nittany Lions took a win on bars with a 49.325, with Penn State gymnasts securing the top two spots and a tie for third.

"I think the greatest thing is that we had way more sticks, way more energy after each person's turn," Garcia said. "We took everything one at a time, and that was the main difference between this and the last meet. I think we did really well." 

"I followed a really strong bar lineup with Sabrina and Lauren," Tsang said, who tied for third in the event. "So, I just wanted to go out there and have fun, too."

Several unfortunate falls showed for some difficulty on the beam, where the Nittany Lions scored 48.350. However, Tsang's high 9.900 contributed to the scoring immensely, earning her yet another accomplishment on her senior day.

In light of her senior day, it only seemed fitting that Tsang would anchor the lineup on the team's final event.  The gymnast landed a tied for career-best 9.950 on the floor to tie for first with George Washington's Camille Drouin-Allaire, with fellow Nittany Lion Garcia snagging the spot just below. The gymnasts gathered together after the conclusion of the event for an emotional celebratory hug with Tsang at the center.

"We started the meet so strong on vault and carried that into bars," Brown said. "We're still struggling to find our confidence on beam, so we had some mistakes there that we've seen throughout the year. I think since we've seen those mistakes before, we knew that we could finish the meet strong on floor, and it was amazing to send out our senior with a team best both on vault and floor."

Tsang was awarded the All-Around title with a total score of 39.600, a career-best score. Other placing Nittany Lions included Bridgens and Garcia.

"Bri has had an amazing career, and she showed that tonight," Brown said. "What could be better than a career best at senior night at home? It just shows that she's not done yet, she still has more in her, and she continues to be an amazing leader for our program."

In addition to Tsang, Penn State women's gymnastics program honored senior managers Chanen Raygoza, Kira Schmoke, and Oni Timothy. 

"There was a lot thrown in with the double dual and last regular season home meet," Brown said. "I don't think we allowed ourselves to really think of it as the last meet here in Rec Hall, just knowing we're going to host regionals, but I would be lying if I said I didn't get a little nostalgic thinking of this being my first season here in Rec. I just attribute everything to the athletes and the amount of buy-in that they have given me." 

Despite a close loss to George Washington, the Nittany Lions had much to be proud of with a season-best all-around score and multiple individual records for their athletes. 

"The energy and having so many people for the double dual was super exciting, it's so much fun competing alongside the guys," Tsang said. "It was definitely exciting. I just wanted to go out there and enjoy every single moment, because there's really nothing like competing in Rec Hall."

The Nittany Lions will begin their slate of away meets for the remainder of their regular season in Pittsburgh on Sunday, March 4, where they will face Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Senior Briannah Tsang is a force to be reckoned with. A true asset on the team, the gymnast holds countless personal titles and has brought skill and leadership to the Nittany Lions. The only active senior on the team, Tsang continues to make great strides in her final season as a collegiate athlete, as well as contributing her expertise to her teammates. This weekend, it is Tsang's turn to be celebrated for Penn State's annual senior day meet. 

"She brings great competitive leadership, but also great vocal leadership in the gym," head coach Sarah Brown said. "She's been here obviously four years and seen a variety of different coaching styles and a number of different athletes come through the program, so she's very level-headed and I think she has the ability to see things big picture, which I very much appreciate. I think it's nice to have somebody who's got a calm head like that leading our team."

While her teammates and coaches will agree that Tsang is a kind and determined athlete, they'll also say she wasn't always the robust leader she has developed into. 

"I think she's become a stronger vocal leader this year," Brown said. "She knows exactly when an athlete or teammate needs something, and she's always there helping them out. I imagine there is a little bit of pressure on her, she had an incredible year as a junior, so there's heightened expectations going into her senior year."

Being the lone active member of her class on the squad, Tsang has had to take on a role that she wasn't quite familiar with, guiding her younger teammates as the season has progressed.

"I definitely feel like I have to be more vocal this year," Tsang said. "I'm usually the one leading by example, so I guess there's just more pressure to be more vocal and lead the team in the direction that I hope to see them go moving forward."

In her four years with Penn State gymnastics, Tsang reflects on times where she admired and took advice from other seniors before her. Now, over halfway through her final season, she is making sure to soak in every moment with the team. 

"I always looked up to all the seniors," Tsang said.  "When I was a freshman, we had this whole senior class, and looking back, they would tell me that I need to enjoy all the memories because they go by so fast." 

Her freshman year, Tsang was named 2015 Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year, becoming the fourth Penn State gymnast to earn at least a share of the title.  Outside of her accomplishments, Tsang reflects on memories with the team present and past as her senior day approaches with the spotlight on her. 

"There was a meet my sophomore year that stood out to me, the alumni meet," Tsang said. "There were so many people there who came back, and everyone in the bar lineup stuck their dismount. There was this increasing excitement as we went through all the routines, and it really stood out to me." 

The entire women's gymnastics program had to adjust as a new coaching staff took over in 2017, a big change for Tsang specifically as she prepared for her final year. Fortunately, the change has led to an exciting final season.  

"Coming into this year, I didn't really know what to expect, because it kind of felt like I was a freshman again," Tsang said. "But our relationship has really grown throughout the season. It's been exciting, I love it." 

"It's been great getting to know her," Brown said. "She and I have gotten a lot closer as the competitive season has started, because I'm able to rely on her for some insight as far as what's going on with the team. I think she's incredible level-headed, so she's not too quick to judge or make really strong statements either way, she just likes to take her time and see both sides of the situation before she makes any judgments. We have a really good working relationship, we're at a point right now where I trust her ability, and I think she trusts me, so if there's a practice where we need to take It a little bit lighter, or a practice where we need to push it a little bit more, she completely understands what the staff wants out of her. She's been able to pace herself really well throughout the season." 

Originally from Vancouver, Tsang also competes internationally for Canada's gymnastics team. She posted an eighth-place showing in the all-around at the 2014 Canadian National Championships, winning vault crown and placing eighth on the uneven bars.  The year before in 2013, she was the champion on vault in the Elite Canada competition. Competing for two prestigious teams certainly keeps the senior busy. 

"Being that she competed internationally this summer, I think her body saw a little bit more pounding than what we would have normally seen had she taken a break in the summer," Brown said. "So, it has been really important that we communicate well and make sure she's able to withstand the rigorous season week in and week out, especially considering that she competes all-around all the time."

Before her senior year, Tsang had earned 41 career event titles. But Tsang proved that her best days were ahead of her, and not at all behind.

"She has really started to shine on beam," Brown said. "She's become a consistent 9.9 or 9.85 competitor for us on beam, and I would say that she's probably the one that we feel the most confident with in that position. She's improved her bar dismount a ton, and she continues to shine on bars and floor as well. She anchors three out of four of our lineups, so she is definitely somebody that we can rely on and trust, and I hope that her senior year has been everything that she wants it to be."

Against Michigan in early February, Tsang won the vault (9.850), floor exercise (9.925), and the all-around (39.475) - all with season-best scores. In addition to her three titles, Tsang tied for second on the balance beam (9.850) and she tied for fifth on the uneven bars (9.850).  That same week, Tsang finished second on beam against Ohio State, tying with another season-best 9.900. In a tri-meet against Penn and Cornell most recently, Tsang posted a 9.835 on vault to win the event. Following a Big Ten Co-Gymnast of the Week title earlier this season, Tsang was also honored as a Big Ten Gymnast of the Week for the second consecutive year. 

"The first five or six meets she did incredible, and won the all-around a few times in a row," Brown said. "She had a fall this past weekend, and I think that needs to happen at some point. You can't expect someone to be perfect all the time, so having that little mistake on beam may have been the break that she needed and help her re-focus going into her senior night."

Tsang says it always comes down to one thing, and that's her love for the sport itself. 

"Just being able to compete is amazing," Tsang said. "I came in as a freshman being afraid to compete, but now I love it and I live for it. Also, I think bars have improved for me. I came in here not really wanting to do bars, but Dallas [Becerra] has made me love it."

With four meets left in the regular season, reality is settling in for Tsang.

"I'm looking forward to enjoying every moment while it lasts." 

Penn State will host George Washington in a double dual meet with the men on Saturday, Feb. 24. The meet is slated for a 4 pm start time in Rec Hall.

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  The Penn State women's gymnastics team always knows a competition weekend will be busy in and out of Rec Hall.  With that said, this past weekend had a little extra buzz as it was also THON weekend on Penn State's campus.

THON, a 46-hour student-run dance marathon took place Friday to Sunday, but before the team could head over to the marathon, they had to finish a competition.  

No. 28 Penn State (195.325) defeated Cornell (192.400) and Penn (192.200) in its first tri-meet of the season on Saturday, nabbing reputable scores across the board. 

"Tonight was a good night for us," head coach Sarah Brown said after the win. "We started out strong, we only had five up on vault and I thought we had a really strong rotation there." 

The team placed a 48.375 on the beam lineup, an ongoing battle for the Nittany Lions, who ended up leading the scoring in that rotation.

"We've struggled in that 1-2 position, but I thought Peyton [Schuller] and Lauren [Bridgens] did a really great job," Brown said. "Unfortunately, we didn't finish as strong as we would have liked on that event. Moving to floor, I thought our energy was good and again the scores were great so if we can stay in bounds I think we're going to be a really complete team moving forward later on in the season." 

The Nittany Lions saw success from multiple gymnasts all afternoon. Along with Bridgens on beam, Peyton Schuller tied for fifth with a 9.700.  On the uneven bars, sophomore Tess McCracken tied a career-best outing to tie for sixth with Briannah Tsang with a 9.800.

"I think we really came together as a team, especially at certain parts in the meet where everybody had each other's backs," Schuller said. "There was lots of energy at the end when we needed it." 

Bridgens was a start of the night for Penn State, winning the all-around title.  In addition to the all-around, Bridgens won three event titles.

"Lauren was awesome tonight, I'm super proud of her. She continues to be steady," Brown said. "As a coaching staff, we've gotten to know her a little bit better and recognize how she competes well, so the most important thing for her first is having fun and doing what she does well, and when we let her loose, she's a star, so we couldn't be more proud of her." 

After the win, the Nittany Lions made their way over to the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State's campus to put together a fun routine for this year's pep rally performed by student-athletes at THON, which has become a traditional part of the dance marathon. 

"It's an honor to be here, and it's important to be able to do something for the community and for people that are less fortunate than us and to do anything we can," Schuller said. 

For many of the athletes, like McCracken, it was also their first THON experience, a typically memorable one for many Penn State students.

"It's great being a part of something that's bigger than us, dancing for the kids and being out there doing something that's good for the world and not just for us," McCracken said. 

"We just had a quick team meeting after the competition," Brown said. "We can say what we want about the competition, but at the end of the day, there are bigger and larger events out there in the world, and an opportunity for them to dance is huge to help out pediatric cancer, and we're honored to be a part of it and I hope that it's something we're going to continue to be part of in the future." 

After a busy weekend for the athletes and coming off of a bin win, the Nittany Lions look ahead to cap off the season strong.

"I keep saying details, details, details, but I feel like at this point, we want to make sure that we're actually practicing what we preach, so I think at practice we need to be a little more intense," Brown said. "I know the girls have a lot going on, they've been practicing for THON, and it's been a really heavy exam week, but we're getting to the point where we really need to zone in on those details in practice so that we can expect them in competition and not just hope that they happen." 

This week will consist of three to four practices for the gymnasts, where they will prepare for their last home meet of the regular season, followed by a long slate of meets on the road.

"On Monday I'll get an idea of how the athletes' bodies are feeling and how they've been maintaining throughout the season," Brown said. "I want to make sure that we're continuing to stay healthy and making smart decisions, but we're going to have to be a little more intense in practice if we're going to see it translate in competition."

"I'm looking forward to going in and fixing what we didn't do well this week," McCracken said. "Also, just to keep grinding and really get back to where we started and what our goals were in the beginning and re-focus on that. 

Penn State will host No. 18 George Washington for its final home meet of the regular season, which will be a combined double dual with the men's team. The meet is slated for Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. at Rec Hall.

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