By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Performance, precision and power: the key ingredients to any competitive collegiate floor routine. For the Penn State women's gymnastics team, floor is strength; and neither the coaches nor the gymnasts understand how they have become so strong in this event; they say it "just happened." But, for anyone who has seen them perform and practice, it didn't just happen; they have truly earned it.
"We teach the girls a simple phrase for them to repeat in their heads as they start their floor routines," associate head coach Rachelle Thompson said. "It helps them relax and calm down before they perform."
Throughout the season, the team has routinely scored above a 49 on floor, achieving a season high of a 49.400 against Michigan State. Four gymnasts have scored the coveted "9.900" this season, including freshman Oni Timothy, sophomore Emma Sibson and senior Krystal Welsh. Freshman Briannah Tsang has gone as far as to secure a 9.925, the highest for the team this season.
Floor routines are exciting, as they combine various skills and technique, along with dance. Floor is the only event paired, specifically, with music in gymnastics. The music helps tell a story, one that has new chapters added to it as the gymnasts become more comfortable with their routines and their style.
"It is a never ending process," Thompson said. "Some of the girls come in with routines and music and sometimes we have to start from scratch. It is so great to see how the routines change as the season goes on. You get to watch the girls grow into their own. As a coach, you get to help them tell that story."
The coaching staff members are sticklers for "performing how you practice." Often, they say the girls are better in practice than they are in the meets. You might say there is a science to how the Thompsons run their practices, a formula that has been proven time and time again since they took over the program in 2010. They devote large portions of their practices to each gymnast working on one single event, instead of having them doing various events at the same time. During these sessions, the girls even cheer like they do in meets, so that competition day is a seamless transition from the practice gym.
"We train really hard on floor," Timothy said. "I don't know if it is a combination of what rotation we get during the meet and practice, but we are really good a this event. I love it because as soon as the music starts, you know that everyone looking at you. Nailing a routine or tumbling pass is the best feeling."
Performing inside of a taped-off square can be intimidating. If you go out of bounds, deduction. If you hold a pose too long, deduction. If you miss a landing, deduction. To say it is stressful would be an understatement.
"Floor is a very mental event," Tsang said. "You have to have a real sense of who are as a gymnast to make it through the minor missteps that happen. You just have to say to yourself, if you go out of bounds, just keep moving."
As the routines change throughout the season, the skill levels of the tumbling combinations change, too. Penn State has a roster of powerful gymnasts. The way they attack each routine and land with such definition after a tumbling pass speaks to their training.
"It is funny, sometimes the easier routines are the hardest for them." Thompson said. "We have to give them challenging passes and routines because they have so much adrenaline. They are so strong that if we were to give them an easy tumbling pass, they will go out of bounds, simply because they have so much power. Harnessing that energy is challenging, but it is so fun to watch them do what they do best."