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The Coaching Clause in Marriage Vows: The Thompsons Are In It 'For Better or Worse'

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's a rather unusual thing, a husband and wife coaching, together. For Jeff and Rachelle Thompson, coaching together is a normal activity, one that has occupied 15 of their 21 years of marriage.

The year was 1991. Jeff was in his second season as a full time coach at the University of Wisconsin and Rachelle was a senior at Louisiana State University. Wisconsin had just announced that they were dropping five varsity sports that year, one of which was gymnastics.

"They made the announcement right before NCAA regionals and we had a gymnast qualify," Jeff said. "So, I went to coach her at the tournament while the head coach stayed home to fight the legal battle."

Rachelle, a three-time NCAA All-American was set to compete at the regional tournament at Auburn University.

"We were in the bookstore at Toomer's Corner and we literally ran into each other," Rachelle said.

"We knew each other, but we had never spoken to each other," Jeff added.

After the tournament, Jeff asked Rachelle to come and coach at one of Wisconsin's summer camps and a year later they were married.

No, the dynamic duo didn't do back-handsprings down the aisle, as Jeff isn't a gymnast. He is a rugby player turned gymnastics coach, a passion he developed through his master's degree in biomechanics and through his childhood involvement at the local YMCA.

"I have always been interested in the science behind gymnastics," Jeff said. "I have always been passionate about the sport. My high school graduation ring has a gymnast on the side of it and my high school didn't even have a gymnastics team. It's weird, I know."  

The pair began coaching together at Auburn University in 1999. At the start of their tenure with the Tigers, Jeff was the head coach and Rachelle served as a choreographer and volunteer coach. She was promoted to assistant coach in 2002 and associate head coach in 2006. In the duo's time with the Tigers they produced four NCAA All-Americans, four All-SEC team members, three SEC gymnasts of the year, nine NCAA Championship qualifiers and four NCAA regional event champions.

"We have learned a lot about each other over the years," Rachelle said. "We have learned to balance our working relationship and our marriage in a unique way that makes it enjoyable."

If you have the opportunity to watch the Thompsons coach, you will see Rachelle doing some of the motions of her girls' routines, while Jeff is relaxed, watching from the sidelines.

"We don't normally fight with each other, but if we do its always about gymnastics," Jeff said with a laugh.

"But, I am always right," Rachelle chimed in.

And like any smart husband, Jeff agreed.

The Thompsons traded in their orange and navy blue coaching jackets in 2010 in exchange for the Big Ten coaching position at Penn State.

"This was a huge turning point for us," Rachelle said. "We came here wanting to win a national championship."

The Thompsons had an incredible freshman-coaching season in the Big Ten. Their team placed second at the 2011 Big Ten Championships and was the No. 2 seed heading into the NCAA Regional Championships.

"I think we were blessed with two sons because every year we have 15 daughters," Jeff said.

The duo has its coaching methods down to a science, but the true success as coaches is visible in the classroom. Winning an all-around championship is always a resume-worthy accomplishment, but coupled with a strong academic record, one is unstoppable. From their time at Auburn to their current position at Penn State, there has never been a year where the two haven't had a handful of Academic All-Americans.

"Coaching together has definitely influenced our parenting," Rachelle said. "I want to coach the girls to our best ability, but I also want to prepare them for their life after gymnastics. I can teach them how to flip in the air, but I can also teach them how to do their laundry, manage their money and grocery shop."

This year marks their fourth season with the Nittany Lions and so far, they have only lost two meets and secured the first 20-win season is the program's history. Penn State is ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten and No. 14 in the NCAA standings.

"We measure our success over the past four years by looking at Kassidy [Stauder] and Lindsay [Musgrove]," Rachelle said.

"I am proud of the gymnasts and people that have become," Jeff said.

"They are just amazing," Rachelle said.

It is obvious that the pair loves nothing more than to coach by each other's side, a reality that is a primary ingredient in their coaching philosophy. For 15 years the Thompsons have spent most of their days together, in the same gym, with the same people, but they wouldn't have it any other way.

"I couldn't imagine a day without coaching with him," Rachelle said. "We are best friends." 

Busy March Begins with Two Big Ten Team Titles

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The postseason push for Penn State teams in March is on.

The first weekend of the month kicked off in fine fashion with two teams tallying Big Ten championships to go along with an individual being named the top performer at the Big Ten Men's Swimming & Diving Championships.

In dramatic fashion, the Nittany Lion women's track & field team notched its third conference crown at the Big Ten Indoor Championships on Saturday afternoon.  It all came down to the 4x400-meter relay with the Lions leading Michigan by just half a point heading into the final event.  The Lions stormed to a victory in the relay to seal the title.

"The women were outstanding today," said Director of Track & Field and Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. "Michigan pressed us hard throughout the weekend, but we kept our composure and competed great. This is a championship win to remember."

Roughly 45 minutes after the women's track & field team was crowned champion, the Lady Lion basketball team finished off a 77-62 triumph over Michigan to clinch a share of its third-straight Big Ten regular season title.  The Lady Lions join Ohio State and Iowa as the only programs to win three or more consecutive Big Ten titles.

"It's the first time in program history that we have won three Big Ten Championships in a row," head coach Coquese Washington said. "When this program has such a storied legacy, to be able to do something that this program hasn't done before, it's pretty hard. The program has accomplished so much and for this class and team to do something that sets them apart, that's really cool."

In the pool, sophomore Shane Ryan capped off a strong outing for the Nittany Lion men's swimming team by becoming the first Penn State men's swimmer to be named Swimmer of the Big Ten Championships on Saturday.  Ryan broke the Big Ten record in the 100m freestyle, topping a mark set by former Northwestern Wildcat and 2012 London Olympics medalist Matt Grevers.  Ryan is the first Nittany Lion to win two individual gold medals at the Big Ten Championships.  His efforts powered the men's team to fifth in the team standings.  The men's team's performance came one week after the Nittany Lion women's swimming & diving team took third at the Big Ten Women's Championships.

With a standout weekend in the books, the Nittany Lions are full steam ahead in postseason mode beginning on Friday when the Lady Lions kick off play as the No. 1 seed at the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis.  Penn State will meet either Northwestern or Ohio State at noon (BTN) on Friday.  The semifinals take place on Saturday, with the tournament final on Sunday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. 

On Saturday, the three-time defending NCAA champion Penn State wrestling team will begin its Big Ten title defense at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.  Head coach Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lions will look for their fourth-straight Big Ten title over the weekend.  Additionally, seniors Ed Ruth and David Taylor have an opportunity to become Penn State's first four-time Big Ten individual champions.  Junior Matt Brown is the third Nittany Lion in the lineup with a Big Ten individual title.  The Big Ten finals will air live on BTN Sunday at 2 p.m.

There are several marquee events on the horizon following the action this weekend.  The 2014 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament is slated to begin on March 13 in Indianapolis.  The Nittany Lion men's hoops team will finish off its regular season this week with games at Northwestern and Minnesota.  The Lions will learn their seed for the tournament on Sunday.

The track and field squads will also be in action during the third weekend in March.  Penn State will travel to Albaquerque for the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 14-15.

Head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lion football team will wrap up winter conditioning this week in preparation for the start of spring practice on March 17.  The Nittany Lions will practice 15 times before the Blue-White Game on April 12 (1:30 p.m.).

The fourth weekend of March will feature no fewer than six postseason events for Penn State teams.  The No. 1 wrestling team will begin its NCAA title defense on March 20 in Oklahoma City at the 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championships.  The finals will take place on March 22.  The ESPN family of networks will televise all six of the NCAA Wrestling Championships sessions.

In Happy Valley, the women's gymnastics team plays host to the Big Ten Championships in Rec Hall on March 22.  Across campus, the Bryce Jordan Center is slated to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship.  Games are slated for 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on March 23 and 7 p.m. on March 25.

Out of town, the first Big Ten Hockey Tournament will take place in Saint Paul, Minn., beginning on March 20.  The NCAA Women's Swimming & Diving Championships begin on March 20 in Minneapolis, as well.  The Penn State fencing teams also kick of NCAA Championships competition in Columbus on March 20.

The month will wrap up with a weekend featuring the NCAA Men's Swimming & Diving Championships, which begin on March 27 in Austin, Texas.  The Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships begin on March 28 in Lincoln, Neb.

With two titles already in hand, it will be a busy month ahead for Penn State teams competing in postseason competition.  Stay tuned for complete coverage of the postseason push on GoPSUsports.com.


Key Dates Ahead in March

March 7 -
Noon (BTN) - Lady Lions vs. Ohio State/Northwestern (Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals - Indianapolis)
March 8 - 11 a.m./6 p.m. - Big Ten Wrestling Championships (Madison, Wis.)
March 9
- 12/2 p.m. (BTN) - Big Ten Wrestling Championships (Madison, Wis.)
March 13-16 - Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament (Indianapolis)
March 14-15 - NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships (Albuquerque, N.M.)
March 17 - First Day of Spring Football
March 20-22 - NCAA Wrestling Championships (Oklahoma City, Okla.); NCAA Fencing Championships (Columbus, Ohio); NCAA Women's Swimming & Diving Championships (Minneapolis, Minn.); Big Ten Men's Hockey Tournament (Saint Paul, Minn.)
March 22 - 12/5 p.m. - Big Ten Women's Gymnastics Championships (University Park, Pa.)
March 23 - 12:30/3 p.m. - NCAA Women's Basketball First Round (University Park, Pa.)
March 25 - 7 p.m. - NCAA Women's Basketball Second Round (University Park, Pa.)
March 27-29 - NCAA Men's Swimming & Diving Championships (Austin, Texas)
March 28-29 - Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships (Lincoln, Neb.)



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

Nittany Lions Close Out Quad Meet With A Win, Touching Tribute To Seniors

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Penn State women's gymnastics team funneled into the locker room before Friday's meet, they knew that they had to win. The win wouldn't just signify a near-perfect home record, but it would be the icing on top of the cake for the seniors. Emotions were running high as the Nittany Lions made their way onto the mat; each teammate presented a little, handmade gift to the seniors.


The team delivered a solid, heartwarming performance in their win at Friday's quad meet. The Nittany Lions won their last home meet of the season with a score of 196.600, beating Western Michigan, Bridgeport, and Yale.

Across the board, the Nittany Lions delivered a solid performance; a great close to the home season for seniors Lindsay Musgrove and Kassidy Stauder.

Penn State started the quad meet on vault with a lineup much shorter than they are used to. After suffering injuries at last week's meet, junior all-arounder Randi Lau did not compete. With her absence, the Nittany Lions competed with five vaulters, instead of the usual six. Musgrove and Stauder scored 9.850, with Emma Sibson, Krystal Welsh, and Sidney Sanabria-Robles each scoring a 9.875, posting a total event score of 49.325.

Head coach Jeff Thompson was most impressed with his team's vault performance, the event that housed the their highest score of the evening.

"With it being senior night, I was a little worried that we weren't going to have a great night," Thompson said. "We only had five girls compete on vault and they each knew they had to hit. We got off to a great start."

The team followed suit on bars with Stauder posting a 9.925 and junior Alex Witt posting a career high 9.850 in her first meet after recovering from an injury. The team finished their rotation on the uneven bars with a score of 49.225.

"What a great way for Alex [Witt] to come back," Thompson said. "She put up the second highest score on bars."

The Nittany Lions put up a score of 49.075 on balance beam and 48.975 on floor, sweeping the top three spots in the all-around.

"What a great way to win on senior night," Thompson said. "The kids fell back on their training and they did what they had to do to win."

Saying Goodbye to Musgrove and Stauder
Musgrove, Stauder and Coach Thompson each started their Penn State careers at the same time four years ago. In a touching video tribute to the seniors prior to the awards ceremony and in the post-match press conference, it was clear how much these seniors mean to their coaching staff. It was hard to miss the tears welling up in Coach Thompson's eyes as he reminisced on his seniors.

"It is always hard to say goodbye to seniors, but this class is different," Thompson said. "They are the first group who started and finished with us. Those girls signed up for one thing and were stuck with us. We give them a lot of credit and a lot of thanks because it would have been easy for them to change their mind and go somewhere else."


Musgrove made her transition to Penn State in 2010; she quickly adjusted to the rigorous schedule of Big Ten gymnastics and relished at the opportunity to succeed academically. The Texas native has not only been a major contributor on vault, balance beam and floor for the Nittany Lions, but she has been recognized for equally impressive performance in the classroom. Musgrove was awarded Academic All-Big Ten honors and Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Awards every season except her freshman year, making the dean's list all but one semester.

"Being able to represent such an amazing school and being apart of a team is a whole other family away from home," Musgrove said. "It has been an amazing four years."

Musgrove has competed in the NCAA Regional Championships each year of her collegiate gymnastics career. She reflected on her first time competing in Rec Hall and how that experience has fueled her passion for the past four years.

"When you compete in club gymnastics there is only one set of bleachers and you perform in front of your family," Musgrove said. "Competing in Rec Hall is just so different than that. There are fans in the stands, your classmates, and even little girls who look up to you. Being able to do what I have been training for since I was 2 is just amazing."

Musgrove will graduate this semester with a degree in bio behavioral health, with the intention of going to medical school. She hopes to use her degree to continue her passion for sports; trading in her leotard for a lab coat and become a sports medicine doctor.  

"We have grown so much over the past four years," Stauder said. "I am happy I go through this experience with Lindsay [Musgrove]."

Stauder has made a lasting impact competitively on the Penn State women's gymnastics team. She encompasses the definition of consistency, striving to finish on the top of the leaderboard in every event that she competes in.

"We have been afforded such a great opportunity to be here," Stauder said. "From our professors, teammates, coaches, nutritionists, and everyone who has helped make this time the best for us, we have been given the opportunity to go so far."

As a Pennsylvania girl born and bread, coming to Penn State has always been a dream of Stauder's. In the course of her four years as a Nittany Lion she has constantly set the bar higher for herself, beating her career bests on a regular basis. This Friday's meet was no different: she set a new career high all-around score with a 39.425.

"I wasn't really thinking about the all-around score going into the meet," Stauder said. "It's a great feeling on senior night to go out with great scores and to improve week after week."

Stauder is hoping to beat her scores of last year's Big Ten performance where she finished third in the all-around, took second on the balance beam, and tied for fifth on bars and floor. She hopes that when she turns her tassel in May that she can improve last year's scores as she has been doing all season. Stauder will graduate with a degree in elementary education and with a personality perfectly suited for teaching.

"I think what I will miss the most about those two is that they are unpredictable," Thompson said. "Every day in the gym it is always something different. This is one of the closest teams that I have ever had the pleasure of coaching. They genuinely love each other."

Coach Thompson is notorious for sharing a "word of the week" with his team. When asked if he had one word to describe his seniors he didn't hesitate when he chose the word "fabulous." 

Stauder and Musgrove 'Focus On The Details' For Senior Meet

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week in and week out the Penn State women's gymnastics team strives to "compete how they practice." Head coach Jeff Thompson believes that this is the key to winning big meets and scoring a lot of points. For seniors Lindsay Musgrove and Kassidy Stauder, being consistent comes naturally, but it's the little details that prove to be the most difficult.

"Gymnastics is based on the tiny little details," Musgrove said. "Nerves make you a little shaky or you might want to push harder to do better in a meet, but that never works in your favor. That is why we try to compete how we train every single day. We have been sticking all the time in practice, so we just have to keep doing the same thing."

Over the past few weeks, the Nittany Lions have not only been consistent, they have been putting up impressive scores. Coming off of a 196.150-197.225 loss to No.8 Nebraska on Feb.8, Penn State used the close match as a measuring stick of comparison, realizing they can compete against the big teams. The Feb. 15 match proved just that: Penn State beat No.15 Illinois 196.675-195.600.

"That meet against Illinois really built our confidence," Musgrove said. "We have been working on all of the little details in practice and we are hoping to see the same thing happen this weekend."

The Nittany Lions return to Rec Hall this Friday after winning a quad meet at Rutgers last weekend, besting Rutgers, Temple and Ursinus with a first place score of 195.825. Penn State will host a quad meet of its own Friday at 7 p.m., welcoming Yale, Western Michigan and Bridgeport to Happy Valley. This Friday's quad meet will be senior night for Musgrove and Stauder, who will be competing in Rec Hall for the last time before the Nittany Lions host the Big Ten Championships on March 22.

To encourage the mantra of "competing how you practice," Coach Thompson offers a "word of the week" for his Nittany Lions to use as inspiration in practice and on the competition floor. For this week, the word is "navigate." Penn State returned home last weekend with another "W," but was forced to navigate around an injury suffered by junior all-arounder Randi Lau.

"This weekend is going to be a true test of how well we did navigate with Randi being out," Musgrove said. "We have to replace her on every event, so we have girls coming back from their injuries to compete this weekend."

Friday's quad meet is the first home meet in almost a month that is not a double dual and Musgrove said that the team would miss having the men's gymnastics team cheering them on.

"Quad meets are really exciting and full of energy," Musgrove said. "I am looking forward to the whole meet over all. It is our last home meet before the Big Tens. Right now, we are trying to get the best home scores we can get so that we will be ranked at the best sport possible." 

Aspire to Succeed

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By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- At age four, Penn State gymnast Sidney Sanabria-Robles was hanging and swinging on anything and everything. Her parents decided to put her in gymnastics because they thought it would be a good fit. And it was.


Eighteen years later, Sanabria-Robles, is still dominating the vault, floor, uneven bars, and beam, helping the Penn State women's gymnastics be the 20th-ranked team in the country.

Last weekend, Sanabria-Robles placed first in the all around against No. 14 Illinois with a score of 39.245. She also received the Ann Carr Award, an honor given to the most inspirational female gymnast at each home meet. This was the second time Sanabria-Robles has won this award in her career.

"We work hard in the gym all the time, so it's always nice to get recognized, especially when you actually do what you do in practice in the meet, which is hard for me," Sanabria-Robles said.

The Caguas, Puerto Rico, native is far from her family, but they still support her from miles away.

"I talk to them all of the time. They're always paying attention and making sure I have everything I need. They are just there for me. In everything," Sanabria-Robles said.


In addition to her family, Sanabria-Robles's motivation for gymnastics comes from within herself.

"It's important to do the sport for yourself," Sanabria-Robles said.  "As long as you love what you're doing and you have a goal in mind, which our goal is to make it to Nationals as a team, you will be [motivated]."


Before each event, Sanabria-Robles visualizes herself performing her routine perfectly. During the routine, she said she takes it one skill at a time and stays focused and with the process.

The key to a successful performance for Sanabria-Robles begins with transferring what she does in the gym to the meet. The next step is having confidence. Sanabria-Robles said she felt very confident in her performance last weekend against Illinois.

Head coach Jeff Thompson said in the beginning of Sanabria-Robles' Penn State career, her confidence was not where it is today.

"Her gymnastics and competition has gotten so much better because her confidence has grown," Thomspon said. "She takes it one skill at a time, one event at a time, and doesn't allow herself to get overwhelmed."

Sanabria-Robles said there are many things the team does to ensure success during meets. First is staying calm and trusting that the work the girls put in is going to transfer itself in the competition. Another important aspect is staying positive.  Sticking landings is also an important aspect of the sport that if done correctly, will ensure success.

"From this point forward, sticking is going to be a part of every assignment. There's no point in rewarding them for doing something that doesn't end well," Thompson said "Every step on a landing is a tenth of a point, so the more of those we can eliminate, the higher we can score."

This week in practice, Sanabria-Robles will be working on dismounts and taking her time during routines before she competes this weekend.

As a team, the Nittany Lions will be focusing on the "word of the week" this week in practice. This week's word is "aspire."

"Aspire to get to the next level, aspire to be one day better, which is our slogan for this year. One day better," Sanabria-Robles said.

The "true team" aspect of Penn State gymnastics is Sanabria-Robles's favorite part about being on the team.

"Everyone cares about each other and we go out there and give it our all and everyone is rooting for everyone to do their best," Sanabria-Robles said.

The Nittany Lions are preparing this week to travel to Rutgers, where they will participate in a quad meet against Rutgers, Temple, and Ursinus. Sanabria-Robles said preparing for a quad meet is the same as preparing for a meet against one team.

"We try to think of every meet at the most important meet because we're not going to be thinking about the meet five weeks from now," Sanabria-Robles said.  "No matter who you're going against, you're still going to give it your all no matter what."

Although the team will be missing Penn State's THON this weekend because they will be competing, they created a video to show during the "Pep Rally" that recognizes Penn State student-athletes. 

Women's Gymnastics 'Stickin' It' To Win

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When women's gymnastics' head coach Jeff Thompson walked into the press room after Saturday's meet he had one thing to say, "I knew our girls could do this."

9716480.jpegHis smile lit up the room as he tried to communicate how proud he was of the performance of his Nittany Lions.

Last weekend's meet against Nebraska was a tough one to watch; seeing the women's gymnastics team tie their season high score, but fall short of a victory because of "sticks." The team's goal for this Saturday's meet was to "stick it," and they rose to the occasion, besting No.15 Illinois 196.675-196.500.

The Nittany Lions started out Saturday's double dual with their vault routines, posting a team score of 49.000. Sidney Sanabria-Robles and Emma Sibson led Penn State's vault program, posting scores of 9.875 and 9.850 respectively.

"We weren't sticking as many vault landings today, but when we got done with our bar rotation I knew we were on a roll," Thompson said. "The girls came to win today."

Kassidy Stauder led Penn State's bar rotation with a score of 9.875, with both Krystal Welsh and Sanabria-Robles posting 9.850 in their bar routines. The team posted a total bar score of 49.125.

Stauder, Weslsh and Sanabria-Robles were the top performers in the all around. Sanabria-Robles took home the gold with an all-around score of 39.425, her first of her collegiate career.

"They [Stauder, Welsh, Sanabria-Robles] gave impressive performances today," Thompson said. "This is a huge confidence booster for them."


Heading into the floor and bar rotation, Illinois was in the lead, but the Nittany Lions quickly answered. Illinois is arguably one of the best beam teams in the Big Ten, a fact that coach Thompson was well aware of heading into the meet.

"Illinois thought they would secure a lead with their beam routine," Thompson said. "We took control in our house, and we showed them who owns Rec Hall."

The Nittany Lions and the Fighting Illini ultimately tied on beam, each posting scores of 49.175.

The most impressive display of how tough the Big Ten gymnastics competition is was during the Nittany Lions' floor routine. After tying Illinois on beam, winning the floor rotation was a must in order to for the Nittany Lions to win. Welsh posted a 9.900, along with Randi Lau, Lindsay Musgrove and Stauder each scoring 9.875.


"We were so excited to go out there and do what we do in practice," Welsh said. "We did that with every routine today. I am so, so happy."

With all of the excitement and impressive performances in this Saturday's meet, it was hard to miss all of the pink in Rec Hall. This weekend's meet was dedicated to breast cancer and the strength of those who are doing their best to "stick it" to the terrible disease.

"Wearing pink today added another element to us wanting to win," Stauder said. "Those women are fighters, they deserve to see our support and know that we are rooting for them."

For coach Thompson, this meet proved two things about his team: that his team is competitive against the elite teams in the conference and that the rest of this season will be nothing short of exciting.

"Heading into the rest of the season and the Big Ten Tournament, I can't wait to see what these girls will do," Thompson said. "We just need to keep competing how we practice. We have to keep taking charge. When you get a team down you have to keep pounding them and keep them down. That is what it takes to be a national championship team." 

Emma Sibson: Dedication Vaulting Her to Success

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Thirteen years ago, a little girl walked into her first gymnastics class in Victoria, British Columbia. The soft spoken, always smiling Emma Sibson never expected to become completely obsessed with gymnastics.


9703270.jpegWhen Sibson was eight, she realized that going through the motions in a practice facility wasn't going to cut it for her; she wanted to compete. Her family moved to Allen, Texas, where she joined the Dallas based World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) and began her competitive career.

Sibson was welcomed with open arms; even at such a young age she showed promise to her coaches
.The WOGA girls took a liking to a young Sibson as soon as she walked through the door. The team operated on a big sister/little sister support system, a system that Sibson says paired her with one of the most "influential big sisters she could have asked for." Sibson got to call none other than 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Nastia Liukin "big sister."

"I got to train with Nastia (Liukin) and Carly Patterson," Sibson said. "I remember during the Olympic games staying up super late to watch them on television. It was crazy that I knew them and got to practice with them."

In 2004, Sibson transferred to Zenith Elite Gymnastics Academy in McKinney, Texas, where she would become a level 10 gymnast by 2008. Sibson was competing all across the state of Texas, gracing the podium at several local and regional competitions. From the beginning of her competitive career, the vault has always been her happy place.

"For me, vault is the most empowering event," Sibson said. "In every other event, you get to stick a landing multiple times. On vault, you have one opportunity to stick the landing and score points. That's what I love about it."

Sibson's love for vault helped her continue to impress judges at her level 10 competitions. In 2010, Sibson finished first in vault and floor at the Level 10 Regionals in Texas, where she then qualified for the Junior Olympic Nationals. She won the Junior Olympic Vault title and qualified to the Visa Championships and competed at the Elite Canada tournament in Quebec City, where she placed eighth in the all-around, fifth on floor and third in vault. Sibson was named to the British Columbia gymnastics team where she competed at the 2010 Canada Winter Games in Nova Scotia. Her team walked away with a silver medal, and Sibson returned to the States with a bronze medal in vault.

"Being apart of that team was definitely a high point in my career," Sibson said. "It was such a great experience."

 

Sibson's dedication to the sport goes without saying. She attended high school at Spring Creek Academy in Plano, Texas, a school designed for competitive athletes, where they only went to class for two and a half hours in the afternoon, giving them off in the morning to train.

After her performance in the Canada Winter Games, Sibson and her coaches had their eyes on the Olympics. But, Sibson's Olympic dreams were cut short when she broke her ankle during her senior year at Spring Creek Academy.

"I realized I wanted to go to the Olympic trials when I was competing for Canada Elite," Sibson said. "Sometimes things just aren't meant to be."

Realizing that she would never be able to grace the Olympic podium, she made it her goal to make the collegiate podium her new home; Sibson signed on to become a Nittany Lion.

"Competing in college has always been a dream of mine," Sibson said. "Penn State was the right place to make that happen."

This season, the freshman Nittany Lion has proven to be a vital component to the women's gymnastics team. Sibson is Penn State's top performer in vault with a high score of 9.950, along with contributing top performances on floor and balance beam. Sibson says that she was able to relax her nerves this season because of the seamless transition she experienced in coming to Penn State.

"My coaches made it so easy for me to go from club competition to competing in the Big Ten," Sibson said. "It is so hard to leave home and I wouldn't have been able to do it without them. Your performance is no longer just for yourself, it's for your team."

Sibson has found her home in Happy Valley on the mat, but also with her teammates. She is known to be a goofball, giving her team some laughs and making the best out of every situation. Her light-hearted attitude became clear when she asked her teammates to help her execute a prank on the men's hockey team.

"At Christmas, the guys kept working so hard on decorating their tree," Sibson said. "I decided that I wanted to steal it from them when they were at practice. So I got a few girls to help me. Their reaction to what happened was totally worth it."

When she isn't thinking about ways to make people laugh, Sibson has her eyes set on the Big Ten tournament and helping her team qualify for nationals.

"I am so grateful for the opportunity to compete for such a great school and great team," Sibson said. "Being able to contribute and be on the mat as a freshman is definitely one of the proudest moments for me so far in my career."

Her team's national goals were solidified last weekend in their performance against No. 8 Nebraska. The girls were just tenths of a point behind the Cornhuskers, which gave them the confidence they needed to keep pushing themselves, day after day in practice.

"Last week opened our eyes to what we can do," Sibson said.  "We can be a top team. I have no doubt about that."

Sibson and the Nittany Lions take on Illinois this Saturday in a double dual with the men's gymnastics team at Rec Hall.

"I have grown up as competitor and as a person since coming to Penn State," Sibson said. "I am so excited to see what the rest of this season will bring." 

Reviewing the Men's and Women's Gymnastics Double Dual

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Saturday's contest at Rec Hall was unique with both Penn State's men's and women's gymnastics teams competing together. As both teams made their way out onto the mat, they engaged the crowd in the infamous "WE ARE" cheer. The women took on the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the men battled it out with the Temple Owls.


Men's Team is Victorious in Contest
9691995.jpegThe Nittany Lions have been consistent across the board when it comes to putting up points. From their season-opener at Army to this Saturday's contest against Temple, the men's gymnastics team has achieved scores in the 420 to 430 range. This weekend was no different; the Nittany Lions bested Temple 431.550 to 401.600.

Head coach Randy Jepson spoke to his team's resilience during the season thus far, as many have had to step up to the plate due to teammates' injuries.


"We have been pretty beat up and injured," said Jepson. "We had to call on guys who may not normally compete in a certain event. They were tested and they stepped up to the plate today."

Coach Jepson believes that part of his team's success is due to the contributions of the unsung heroes.


"We are lucky to have guys like Jeremy Munn and Tristan Duverglas," said Jepson. "They really stepped up today."

Munn is a freshman walk-on who was called on this Saturday to fill spots on the floor and vault. He scored 14.500 points for the Nittany Lions on floor and 14.200 points on the vault. 

Duverglas placed first on vault with 15.500 points, a performance that Jepson says, "you would see in the finals of the World Championships."

Coach Jepson was thoroughly impressed with the performance of sophomore Alexis Torres. Torres won the floor event with a score of 15.300.

"He is very talented," said Jepson of Torres's performance. "Today was the first time I saw him compete the way he has trained. His scores can only go up from here."

And then there is Trevor Howard...
The sophomore has been the most consistent performer for the Nittany Lions. Howard competes in all but one event. He put up big numbers on parallel bars (15.150) and vault (14.800) against Temple this Saturday.

"I love competing in double duals," said Howard. "The girls are always extremely supportive and its great to see all of the fans and my family come out."

When Howard stepped out to compete in his high bar rotation, he was the only gymnast on the mat. In what was a chaotic atmosphere for most of the double dual, Rec Hall was silent as they watched Howard put up 14.550 points on the high bar.

"High bar was definitely my best even today," said Howard. "I have been working really hard on it in practice. To be able to come out today, stick the landing and give the crowd a show was awesome."

But, being the last to compete is a challenge that Howard welcomes with open arms, as he uses that pressure as preparation for National Team tryouts.

"I try to build off these types of settings and set higher goals for myself," said Howard. "Coach Jepson has me go last to help me prepare for those pressure sets."

Rec Hall's competitive setting isn't just for teams, but for siblings, too
Penn State's women's gymnastics' Krystal Welsh was especially excited for Saturday's double dual. She not only got compete in front of her parents, but she had the rare opportunity of sharing the mat with her brother and Temple Owl, Jakob Welsh. 

"I was so excited to see him compete," said Jakob Welsh. "He was the first person I looked for when I walked on the mat. We both made all-around so that makes me really happy."

Krystal Welsh finished second for Penn State, and fourth in the all-around and Jakob Welsh finished first for Temple.

Season best score gives Nittany Lions hope, despite loss to Nebraska
9691998.jpegNo. 23 Penn State's women's gymnastics put up a fight against No. 8 Nebraska this Saturday in the double dual. Despite season best score of 196.150, the Nittany Lions fell short of the Cornhuskers' score of 197.225.

Head Coach Jeff Thompson isn't going to let this tough loss hold his team back from improvement. His coaching staff and team will look at the positives.

"We knew we had our work cut out for us heading into today's meet," said Thompson. "We got off to a great start of vault, but I think we got a little too excited."

The Nittany Lions gave the Cornhuskers a run for their money on vault, especially with the performance of freshman Emma Sibson. Sibson tied Nebraska's Jessie DeZiel with a score of 9.950.

"Today I was focused on staying relaxed," said Sibson. "I did my vault how I do it in practice, which was a personal high for me, but there is always room for improvement."

Penn State was neck and neck with Nebraska in vault, losing 49.400 to 49.150.

Stauder's focus and bringing practice performances to competition
Kassidy Stauder is quickly becoming a household name in Big Ten gymnastics, as she owns her performances in uneven parallel bars and beam. They key to her consistent performances, she says, is her effort to perform her routines in competition exactly how she does in practice. Stauder's numbers this weekend illustrate her dedication to the notion, "practice makes perfect."

"Competing how we practice is becoming a team theme," said Stauder. "I warm up the same way for a meet as I do in practice, which helps keep my performance consistency."


Stauder finished behind Nebraska's DeZiel and Emily Wong in the all-around with 39.350 points.

What's Next?

Coach Thompson is looking forward to the rest of the season, especially after his team's performance against Nebraska. With key meets in the Big Ten coming up, it is imperative for the Nittany Lions to not lose sight of the positive strides made in Saturday's dual.

"We lost events by tenths of a point," said Thompson. "We can find those tenths of a point by doing a few extra hand stands and sticking some more landings. We can only build from the teams performance today."

The gymnastics teams will compete in another double dual next weekend at Rec Hall against Illinois. The Nittany Lions and the Fighting Illini will take the mat on Saturday at 4 p.m. 

Keys to the Meet - Penn State vs. No. 8 Nebraska

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By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- After a successful weekend at Ohio State, the 23rd-ranked Penn State women's gymnastics team has found the keys to being successful. Trust, starting and finishing well, being consistent, and taking what the team does in practice and applying it to the meets.

Senior all around gymnast Kassidy Stauder and head coach Jeff Thompson know what it takes to be victorious this weekend against No. 8 Nebraska in their first home Big Ten meet of the season.

Trust:
9624416.jpegEach week, the Nittany Lions have a word of the week that they focus on. The "Word of the Week" this week is trust. Trusting themselves. Trusting each other. Trusting the coaches. Trusting the judges. Trusting their talent.

"[We are trusting ourselves to] go into the meet and [we are] trusting that what we've down in the gym everyday is what we're capable of doing at the meet," Stauder said. "[We are] trusting ourselves to just let it go and let it all out there."

Starting and Finishing Well:
Previously, the team focused on a good start in the first event and a good finish in the last event. Now the team is focusing on starting well in one event and finishing well in that same event. This mindset helped the Lions defeat Ohio State last weekend. The Lions will be kicking off the competition on the vault this weekend against Nebraska.

"What I hope is that we get a great start on vault, but [also] we get off to a great start on every event," Thompson said.

Consistency
:
Last weekend, Stauder set a season-high mark on the floor with a 9.775. Stauder said she and the team are working on their consistency, and are continuing to put the whole meet together as a team. The Nittany Lions hit all 24 competitive routines last weekend and hope that they can be consistent and continue this success against Nebraska.

Stauder said the team has done a great job of hitting their routines with good handstands and dismounts and being aggressive in the meets. She said she wants the team to continue this this weekend.

Thompson said the team is looking to build on the confidence that it gained from the road win against Ohio State. The team is still competing for the Big Ten regular season title. If the team continues to be consistent and victorious, they have the chance to fulfill that dream.

"There were so many good things last weekend that we just want to continue that feeling at home, with our crowd behind us. The atmosphere is going to be really fun," Thompson said.

Performing How They Practice
"Go White." That's what the Nittany Lions chant from the side when their teammates are performing. This means, "Go to White Building." The girls vision themselves in the White Building, where they practice, to feel like they are just at another practice, doing another routine, just like they do everyday.

This weekend is a double dual, in which both the women and men's team compete at the same time. The women's and men's teams practice together, so this weekend will be even more similar to practicing in the White Building. The men's gymnastics team will be taking on Temple this weekend.

"We absolutely love double duals because we train with the guys everyday, so it makes us feel even more like we're in White Building," Stauder said. "And it brings a lot more energy and fun to the meet.  I think the crowd really likes it too. They enjoy being able to see both the women and the men compete."

The women's gymnastics team has won three consecutive meets and is looking to continue the winning streak against Nebraska at home. Stauder said using the equipment that the team is used to, having family and fans there, and not having to deal with traveling gives the Nittany Lions an advantage.

The team will again host Nebraska in March during the Big Ten Championships.

"It's really cool because Big Ten [Championships] are going to be here, so it's kind of like a trial run having the Big Ten schools here," Stauder said. 

Stauder Leads Lions in Home Opener

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By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Three meets into the 2014 season, senior Kassidy Stauder is off to a strong start to her final campaign as a Nittany Lion gymnast.  Stauder led the Nittany Lions to victory in a quad meet against Cornell, Southeast Missouri, and UIC on Saturday, with a career-high all around score of 39.275.

9629045.jpegThis season, Stauder has won the All-Around title and has tied for second with a score of 38.925 in a quad meet earlier this month against Kentucky, Ball State, and West Virginia.  She also owns the team's top scores on balance beam (9.900) and uneven bars (9.875).

But Stauder has not always been the all around gymnast that we see today. She has evolved into an all around gymnast during her time at Penn State. Before coming to Penn State, she had not vaulted at the skill level she vaults at today. 


She began Saturday's competition on the vault and scored a 9.725, only .050 below her career-high. Head coach Jeff Thompson commended the Palmerton, Pa., native for her effort on the vault.

"She didn't do that vault before she got to college and actually, she was pretty terrified of vaulting when she got here. She's worked through that and gotten herself in a position where when we need her, she can step up and give us a score," Thompson said.

After vaulting, Stauder headed to the uneven bars where she scored a career-high 9.875. Her performance on the bars was both the team's highest and the meet's highest score on the uneven bars. On the bars, the "little things" matter. Stauder said the team focused on this in practice before Saturday's meet.

"We took what we did last week in the competition and really focused on the mistakes that we made, like the little details, handstands, pointed toes, feet together, and sticking [the landing]," Stauder said.

In a competition earlier this month against Iowa State, Stauder's score of 9.725 was the third-highest score on uneven bars in the meet.

Stauder, who started gymnastics at age eight, said she felt very confident after completing her routines on Saturday. She noted that she is able to feel how well she did before her score is even announced. She felt most comfortable on both the uneven bars and the balance beam. On the beam, she said she felt, "really calm and excited."

She tied her career-high of 9.900 on the balance beam on Saturday. This was the team and meet's highest score on the beam.

Stauder's final performance of the day was her floor exercise. She was the leadoff for the Nittany Lions and received a score of 9.775. Thompson said she did a great job hitting her routine.

"[I am] super proud of her for being in the all-around tonight; doing such a great job, being the anchor on beam, hitting that floor routine like she did, her bar routine was our highest score. What a great, fun first home meet of her senior year," Thompson said.

Stauder said she will be working on the details and fixing the little things before the team's first Big Ten meet of the season against Michigan State on Saturday.