By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNVIERSITY PARK, Pa. - Briannah Tsang stood in front of a crowd of 4,000 people on April 2 performing one of the hardest floor routines in the country.
She took off for her first tumbling pass, sprung into the air, flipped backwards, completed a half-turn in the air and finished by flipping forward twice, also known as an Arabian Double Front.
Because Tsang goes into her landing while flipping forward, she is unable to see the floor. She must solely rely on the "feel" of her routine to stick her landing.
"It was like any other meet. I was a little more nervous than what I usually am, but I just took a breath and calmed myself down," Tsang said. "My first pass is definitely a blind landing, but I've just been doing it so much and for so long that I just know where I am in the air."
The sophomore knew exactly where she was in the air at the NCAA Regional Championships last weekend where she posted a 9.900 that secured her spot at the NCAA Championships to represent the Nittany Lions on the floor exercise.
"She's kind of like a cat. She has very good air sense," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said. "She nailed her opening pass which was incredible. Everything in her floor routine, her second and third pass, was the best they've been all year. She gave very little away in terms of deductions in her routine. The overall performance was outstanding."
Tsang was the only Nittany Lion to advance to the NCAA Championships, which makes the practice gym a very quiet environment.
"Practicing is different because my team is now in the off-season and I am not. Not all of them come into the gym, but some do come and it's nice," Tsang said. "It doesn't make it more difficult without them there. I know what I have to do. I guess I just have the drive. That's just me."
Preparing for Nationals is not much different from what Tsang has done all season. She does her conditioning workout at the end of practice, just like the regular season. Her focus is primarily around the floor exercise, however being the alternate for the all-around has made Tsang make sure she is prepared for all four events.
Tsang will take off for Texas on Wednesday and has a practice day on Thursday. She will be accompanied by Thompson and teammate Nicole Medvitz, who is making a separate trip down to support Tsang.
After her practice round on Thursday, Tsang will spend the night before her big meet enjoying a bowl of ice cream. She began this ritual at the start of her freshman year with Penn State when she had a bowl of ice cream the night before her first meet and performed well. This ritual has stuck with her and has now gotten her to the NCAA Championships.
"For some kids they might just spend all their time thinking about their one event, over-analyzing and trying too hard. I don't think that's Bri," Thompson said. "I think she's going down there to do her best, but she's also going down there to soak up the experience."
Although Tsang is usually associated with the vault because of her 2014 Canadian National Championship vault crown and other vault success, she has won five floor titles this season including her most recent victory at the NCAA Regional Championships. She has posted three 9.900s and two 9.925s.
"People would recognize her as her best event being vault, but she's such a dynamic floor worker that it didn't surprise me that she won floor," Thompson said. "I'm happy for her and keeping my fingers crossed that she does a really good job."
After being named the 2015 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and winning at least one event title in each of her first seven career meets as a freshman, Tsang's stellar 2016 season consisted of one all-around title, three vault victories, five floor titles and All-Big Ten First Team honors.
"As a gymnast, she's very talented, but she also works very hard. She's not afraid to work through pain," Thompson said. "Sometimes if you have sore muscles or there's been a few times where she had a hard landing and maybe jarred her back, we've had girls in the past where they would be out for a week because of that. She just kind of rubs some dirt on it, gets back in there and gets after that. She doesn't just love competing, she loves the sport. I think she would miss it if she wasn't out there every single day. That's what I love about her."
Tsang will compete in the NCAA Championships at 2 p.m. on Friday.
"I'm going in with no expectations," Tsang said. "I'm just trying to do my best, hit my routine like I do in practice and just have fun."