Skip to main content Skip to footer

Recently in Women's Gymnastics Category

13076568 (1).jpeg

By Maria Evangelou, 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."

13081695 (1).jpeg

By Maria Evangelou, 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."


By Madeleine Balestrier, 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."


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."


By Maria Evangelou, 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.


By Maria Evangelou, 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.


By Maria Evangelou, 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.

VIDEO: 2018 THON Pep Rally Dance

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Among the most highly anticipated THON weekend events, check out women's gymnastics' athlete hour pep rally dance!


By Maria Evangelou, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After three consecutive high-scoring meets, the Nittany Lions are making significant strides as they reach midseason.  Most recently, Penn State faced Ohio State, posting the team's highest score of the season with a 196.025, in addition to tallying its second-highest score of the season on the floor exercise (49.075).

"Ohio state was a turning point for our program," head coach Sarah Brown said. "I thought we handled ourselves very well under pressure, and in a really loud and energetic environment that will be similar to postseason. I think what we've been trying to do is practice like we compete and compete like we practice. So I think it's a balance between coming into the gym and trying to create pressure situations where we can try to simulate the meet, but then when we get to the meet my number one goal is to make it feel like practice, so trying to control those nerves and make sure we don't feel an extra amount of pressure, that we just do what we do well and we've continued to be more calm in competitions as the season goes on." 

One Nittany Lion that remained calm and competed at a high level was junior Sabrina Garcia on the floor exercise, posting a 9.875 to tie for first with teammate Briannah Tsang and two Buckeyes in the event. 

"I definitely think we've gained confidence, become more consistent and hit more routines, and with that confidence I think we'll continue to go up," Garcia said. "With each meet and each practice between the meets we're focusing on the details, so we're focusing on sticking the landings, hitting the handstands, and working on the little things that will improve our scores."

In addition to her impressive floor score, Garcia nabbed a career-best score of 9.925 for her first balance beam title of the season.

 "Before the beam and as I was going through the routine, I was just saying my words, doing what I do in practice, and I went up there with complete confidence in myself and my capabilities in my routine," Garcia said. "Once I finished, it was almost relieving that I was finished and I knew what I was capable of."

Junior Mason Hosek also contributed to the Nittany Lions' team beam season-best score of 49.050 by tying for third with a 9.800. 

"The biggest improvement all together on the beam is just within our mentality," Hosek said. "We kind of changed our mentality from trying to hit a beam routine and hoping we'd make it, to knowing we're going to hit it, and showing the judges what we can do. We're going to continue to hit and show everyone what we got, and finish off the season strong." 

Brown found that the best way to coach the gymnasts into perfecting their routines was emphasizing character and attitude first and foremost while competing.

 "In general, just our attitude going into beam was so much better, we had a certain level of confidence that I knew we had in us that I had seen in practice that I just hadn't seen in competition," Brown said. "I actually talked a little bit less about gymnastics before beam, and talked about the general mood, tone and confidence that I wanted to see from each of the athletes, and I think that that carried over into their routines."

 The Nittany Lions have seen progress all season long, and there are multiple contributing factors to that success.

"Each week we sit down and talk with our sports psychologist and kind of pick a theme for each week," Brown said. "I feel like every theme that we've had and every meeting we've had has kind of been working toward this point, where we're finally trusting each other and the system, because we're starting to see those results week in and week out." 

Penn State is looking ahead to a two-week home slate, which is always a positive for the team, whose confidence shines through in Rec Hall. As the season progresses, the Nittany Lions can also look ahead with hope as the regional qualifying scores for championship meets will be released in the coming weeks. 

"I want to have a good showing this week and next week," Brown said. "Then it's going to be about pacing ourselves after that, because we're on the road for four weeks in a row and that is going to get challenging, but that's what we've been preparing for.  In terms of the way the RQS comes together, having those road scores late in the season should be great for our team."

Garcia and Hosek have faith in not only their own progress, but the progress of their teammates, specifically those who are younger and new to the program.

"I think it comes with relying on our training, having trust in each other and our coaches, and continuing to go into each meet with the mentality that we got this and we have the capability to be great," Garcia said.

"As a team, we've been getting significantly more confident each meet," Hosek said. "Even with the small mistakes we're having each week, it's like we're showing a progression all the way through the end of the meet every week. So travelling and coming back home now, I just feel like this is an uphill battle but we're going to keep rising, I'm extremely excited, I think there's nothing but great things to come of this team and I can't wait to see where we go." 

On top of perfecting their routines and team spirit, the gymnasts emphasize the importance of staying grounded and level-headed, no matter the competition they face.

"All the teams we're going against are obviously a competition each time, so there's no team we're going into knowing we're better or expecting to win, we go in with the same attitude each meet," Hosek said. "But I think that coming home is really nice after being away for a little bit, and building our confidence back at home is really nice before we go away for four weeks again, so it'll be really nice to start us on a drive where we're going up."

 After a full change in coaching staff, a new set of freshmen on the squad, and some new competition, the team is pleased with how the season has been progressing.

"The underclassmen have their footing pretty well now, we're into the mid part of the season, and I think the best advice I have is just to get into treatment as much as you can, resting on our days off, but besides that I think that we're doing all that we can in and out of the gym," Hosek said.

 Grateful for Brown's style of coaching and encouragement throughout the season, Hosek feels that the team has nowhere to go but up.

 "Purpose and composure have been our main two words," Hosek said. "I personally always feel like I come out there with an attacking attitude, that's been my word, and I think that that's shown in the way I've competed and the way our team has competed you can see that we have more composure, and there's always a purpose when we finish the meet. I think that's really been showing and she's really done a great job of helping us find our flow." 

No. 28 Penn State returns home to Happy Valley to host Cornell and Penn in a tri-meet format. The meet is slated for a 4 p.m. start at Rec Hall on Feb. 17.  


By Maria Evangelou, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is a dream school for a lot of high school students, especially athletes. Its reputation academically and athletically holds true, and it's hard not to fall in love with the community once you become a student.


For freshman gymnast Alissa Bonsall, coming to Penn State was the easiest decision of her life- somewhere she knew she'd be before she even committed to gymnastics.  Bonsall's mother and father, Dave and Stephanie Bonsall, as well as one older sister, are all proud Penn State alumni. She says the Nittany Lion pride has been strong in her family before she even knew what a balance beam was.

"Since both my parents are alumni, Penn State has been in my family since I was born," Bonsall said. "With my parents both being from Penn State, I've always looked up to them. They've been so successful and I want to be just like them, so why not Penn State. It has such high standards for academics, and the entire atmosphere here is so amazing to be a part of. I'm following my dad a lot by pre-majoring in engineering right now. It's really inspiring and I think it's cool that he was a TA for one of the classes that I'll be taking in the future."

Bonsall's parents could not have been more excited when their daughter verbally committed to Penn State athletics as a sophomore in high school.

"I have pictures of myself at football games with my entire family, and my mom recently sent me a picture of me with a Penn State sweatshirt on when I was two," Bonsall said.

Stephanie Bonsall said although she had always hoped her children would continue the Nittany Lion lineage, she didn't truly realize the likelihood of her daughter's gymnastics skills taking her there until Alissa was nearly in ninth grade.

"Alissa was fortunate enough to go to training camps and reached a high level of skill in gymnastics," Stephanie said. "She officially toured Penn State the summer of ninth grade and fell in love."

In combination with Happy Valley already feeling like home before she arrived, Bonsall says her bond with her team is what truly makes her realize she belongs. The freshmen gymnasts all live together in the dorms, and have been here before the semester started when they arrived for the summer bridge program.

"It was great for all the incoming freshmen to be a part of," Bonsall said. "It gave us an easier path to get into the college flow, and my other freshmen teammates are amazing, we're best friends already and I can't wait for the next four years."

 "Our freshmen live together in the dorms which I think has really helped them feel connected to one another, but I have to give credit to our upperclassmen for making them feel involved," head coach Sarah Brown said. "I know that they're constantly giving them rides and including them in team activities. Ever since we've hit the road, like at the Maryland meet, or throughout the season, there hasn't been a question as to whether or not the freshmen have been all-in or felt like a part of the team. I feel like they absolutely are an integral part of the program and I think they've blended in really well."

The head coach had nothing but good things to say about Bonsall and her family, which is especially complimentary considering Brown is in her first season of coaching at Penn State.

"She's an amazing person, first and foremost. She's by far one of the most polite athletes that I've ever had the privilege of working with," Brown said. "She's incredibly kind and she cares so much about this program. I think she puts a lot of pressure on herself because she wants to compete well, and I appreciate that, but I am continuing to encourage her to take a deep breath and a step back and realize all she's accomplished. She's been a solid performer for us."

Brown understands the significance of family ties within a university, being a University of Missouri alumna, along with her mother, godmother, and aunt. Just the way Brown's family was there for her, the Bonsall family can always be seen loud and proud in the stands for a Penn State gymnastics meet.

"I know that even to this day, my family still follows Mizzou athletics and I know that Alissa and her family are going to continue to follow Penn State athletics together," Brown said. "It just makes you feel good, it makes you feel like you're a part of the community and like when you go home, that your family gets it. Her mom comes to all the meets and has her 'Alissa' shirt and Penn State stuff on. They've been wonderful, it's been a pleasure getting to know her family."

Stephanie, an alumna of Penn State's College of Education, has not missed a single meet so far this season, and even plans to head to Michigan State this weekend.

"I know they love coming to the meets," Bonsall said. "My dad loves being in Rec hall and being anywhere with athletics pretty much, he loves being a part of it."

As a freshman on the team, Bonsall says her adjustment to the campus and program has been seamless.

"My team is amazing and always there to support me. I can have the most random questions and they'll have a response for it. Overall, I don't think the change has been too hard because I'm used to a busy schedule. The only difference with college is a lot more time management. There's a lot more work to be done."

During the fall of 2016, Bonsall sat proudly with her parents on signing day, making her enrollment in Penn State and her title as a student-athlete official. Stephanie recalls the excitement of Alissa and all her teammates and friends, the room adorned with blue paw prints and blue-and-white cupcakes.

"It was surreal," Bonsall said. "I don't think I'll completely understand the significance until I'm older and I'm watching potentially my daughter going through the same experience."

Stephanie recounts the invaluable experiences Penn State has given her. She recalls memories with her sorority sisters, whom she still keeps in touch with and sees from time to time at gymnastics meets. She also hopes Alissa's younger brother, a golfer, will consider Penn State when the time comes.

"This whole journey has brought our Penn State family back together," Stephanie said. "I think Penn State is such a perfect fit for Alissa. We looked at other schools, but when you think about excellence, there's something in your heart that you feel when you're at Penn State. Whether you look at academics or athletics, you think pinnacle and excellence. It fits Alissa's personality. And you carry that the rest of your life."


By Maria Evangelou, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With both men's and women's teams from Penn State and Illinois on the floor for the season's first of two double duals, energy was brimming in Rec Hall Saturday afternoon.

The Nittany Lions came into the day coming off a 195.550-195.025 loss at Maryland last Friday. As a team at Maryland, Penn State recorded season-best scores on the balance beam (48.975) and the floor exercise (48.875). Not only did three Nittany Lions capture event titles, seven Penn Staters set career-best marks or tied career-best scores and the team set season-best scores on the balance beam and floor exercise.


The Illinois Fighting Illini headed to Happy Valley with an overall record of 3-1 and a record of 1-1 in Big Ten action, their first and most recent loss being to Michigan.


Despite an opponent with an impressive record, the Nittany Lions didn't let the pressure get to them. Penn State posted up at the vault to start, where junior Gianna LaGuardia led the team's scoring with a 9.850, in comparison to Illinois' highest vault score of 9.775.


"This past week we focused on landings, and we definitely came through that with us sticking almost all of our bar dismounts," sophomore Tess McCracken said. "Every meet we're building and getting more confident about what we're doing.

The Nittany Lions also managed to nab a winning team total of 49.050 on the uneven bars, with a top score of 9.875 secured by both Lauren Bridgens and Sabrina Garcia.


"For the most part, I thought we did a really good job on bars," head coach Sarah Brown said. "We stuck a lot of dismounts and hit a lot of handstands, in general I thought our vaults were really big too, but we need to put those and the stick together."


Brown specifically highly anticipated the balance beam, Penn State's third event, where the team has shown significant improvements and energy this season. Last weekend, the Nittany Lions registered a season-best balance beam score. This time around, an unfortunate fall to start put the team in a position for need for improvement early on, but senior Briannah Tsang showed composure and her skill before tallying a 9.900, the highest score of any Penn Stater of the night. The Nittany Lions' lead began to decline after a tough Illinois team brought talent to the beam, outscoring Penn State 49.200-48.750.


"I thought we put together a strong lineup," Brown said. "We made some changes in practice but we were relatively consistent and we were able to recover after a fall."


"I think we're going in the right direction," Tsang said. "We obviously had a couple little mistakes, but we can only go up from here."

Penn State managed to keep spirits high to finish on the floor for the team's final rotation. An uncharacteristic fall almost sent the Nittany Lions off track, but Tsang's 9.900 score assisted the scoring greatly. Despite the help, Penn State just barely fell short yet again to Illinois' 48.900 score.


"We did have to make a switch in the touch with our lineups, and I thought the kids handled it so well," Brown said. "They competed with poise, they competed with energy, and our focus all week was composure and purpose, and I thought we showed that tonight. I definitely think I'm seeing improvements in the quality of our gymnastics. No matter what, every single night we go out there we want to see better performances, and overall I did see that."


The women's teams concluded the meet by cheering on the men in their final two of six events.

Despite a close 195.750-195.475 loss, the Nittany Lions can celebrate their highest scoring meet of the season--an impressive feat, especially for their first double dual of the season, and coach Brown's first of her coaching career.


"I thought it was a really strong night for us," Brown said. "Definitely the most complete meet that we've put together so far, still had some mistakes but in general, I think we're moving in the right direction and we're learning more and more about our athletes each time they compete, so I'm really proud of where we are right now. In terms of the double dual, this prepares us for postseason, this is exactly what Big Tens are going to be like, what Regionals are going to feel like, and we had an amazing crowd."


"This is the most we've ever seen in Rec Hall, and it was just great to see how many people came out to watch us," said McCracken, who also celebrated a birthday on Saturday.  "It was honestly great, for half the meet I forgot it was my birthday, but it was an amazing feeling."

No. 32 Penn State heads to East Lansing, Michigan, to take on Michigan State on Sunday, Feb. 4. The meet is slated for a 1 p.m. start at the Jenison Field House.


  • Loading Tweets...
    1 second ago