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VIDEO: 2018 THON Pep Rally Dance

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Among the most highly anticipated THON weekend events, check out women's gymnastics' athlete hour pep rally dance!

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com 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.  

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com 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."

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com 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.

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Last weekend, the Nittany Lions opened their away meet slate with head-to-head competition against the Maryland Terrapins. Refreshed and ready to take on a bigger meet back home, Penn State will take on Illinois with double the action: the men's and women's teams will compete at once for the first of this year's two double dual meets.

 

Unlike her previous head coaching stop at Eastern Michigan University, head coach Sarah Brown is now working alongside a men's gymnastic team, something her previous university lacked. In the heat of her first season with Penn State gymnastics, she is also about to experience her first double dual.

 

"This is my first double dual as a coach, so I've kind of been listening to everyone else about how it's been done in the past," Brown said. "We're going to march out together as a team, and then at the end of the meet we'll do autographs together as a team, and I think whether the meet runs a little long on either side, we'll be there encouraging the other team and making sure we're feeling the support from one another, but as far as pre-meet rituals nothing really changes." 

 

The team has been busy with a mixture of preparing for such a big event in combination with working on perfecting routines from their meet against Maryland.

 

"Our focus yesterday at practice was really on correcting the errors we had at Maryland, so now the double dual is going to be our focus today," Brown said. "We're doing a little bit more of a distraction-type workout, and getting ourselves aware of the fact that when we're competing on beam.  It's not just going to be silent in the arena with background music, the men will still be competing and cheering each other on. I think there's going to be a lot of positive energy in this meet."

 

With a loud and big crowd, coach and gymnasts alike agree that the extra-busy atmosphere is encouraging and exciting to them. Brown knows the girls love competing in front of a big crowd, and are looking forward to showing off some great routines that they have been working hard on in the gym. 

 

"We're reminding ourselves how we practice and going into the meet with that mindset," junior Gianna LaGuardia said. "It is exciting going into the meet with the men, because we practice with them every day." 

 

Despite the recent loss for the Nittany Lions (1-2, 0-2 B1G), the team was able to nab some impressive scores. 

 

On the vault, LaGuardia tied for the top spot with teammate Briannah Tsang and Audrey Barber of Maryland, with each gymnast posting a 9.800.   Junior Mason Hosek also brought home a first-place score, with a 9.900 on the balance beam.

 

"I think it's just the little things at this point, focusing in on the details is really what it comes down to," Tess McCracken said on what it takes to be successful. "It's nice to have all the freshmen really know what it's like to compete at home and away, so to come home this week it'll be nice." 

 

The team, which has already built a special bond with each other and their coaching staff this season, looks forward to the new experience for both the new freshmen on the squad and coach Brown. 

 

"From day one, training in our facility with the men has been different for me. I've watched other programs do it before and I always thought that was a really cool unique bond between the athletes," Brown said. "We're obviously close as coaches because we spend time together in the office and watch each other train our athletes side-by-side every day, but this will be my first time with men in gymnastics so I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

 

With the men's squad competing in six events for the double dual and the women in four, the teams will have time to watch and encourage each other from the floor.  

 

"We had a team meeting yesterday and decided that we're going in with composure and with purpose so that we're calm, so that we have a reason to go in and we're still aggressive when we go out there," McCracken said. "The double dual will be really great with the men's team, having them in Rec Hall gives a lot more energy."

 

Of previous years, LaGuardia and McCracken agreed on one thing: "I just remember the energy," LaGuardia said. "Even though there is a lot going on, it's very exciting." 

 

The Nittany Lions will host Illinois at Rec Hall this Saturday, Jan. 27, at 4 pm. 

 

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Pressure mounts and excitement is at a peak as the Penn State women's gymnastics team packs the busses to head to University of Maryland for its first away meet of the 2018 season. The Nittany Lions are slated for six meets on the road, kicking off with an intra-conference competitor.

 

The competition will not only be the first Penn State away meet for the freshmen gymnasts, but also for head coach Sarah Brown, who is in her first year with the program. The team, who holds a 1-1 (0-1 Big Ten) record thus far, shows little to no signs of nerves after a close loss to Nebraska last weekend, and the strong relationship that the squad has formed is evident.

"I think we're all just really excited about getting on the bus together as a group," Brown said. "Travel trips just have a way of bringing a team together, which is always fun."

The team will depart from State College at 3 pm on Thursday, and will kick off their arrival in Maryland with a team meal, followed by a short team meeting at the hotel, which Brown says will allow for bonding while also re-focusing the squad's attention on the next day meet.

"Throughout the day Friday, we'll do a couple things in the hotel to make sure we're staying focused but not sitting in our rooms and just thinking about the competition, because we're not competing until 7 pm so it definitely makes for a long day," Brown said. "You want to have some events and things that will break up their mental thoughts, so they're not sitting there festering about the meet all the time."

Brown, who has previous head coaching experience at Eastern Michigan University, practices a balance of discipline and preparedness, while also making sure the team's connectivity and bond is on point.

"I think my philosophy kind of has stayed the same in that I want the kids to enjoy being on the bus together, relax, turn movies on, do homework, listen to music, and just be comfortable," Brown said.  "It really is whatever is going to get these girls in the best mood possible. Getting up and having breakfast together on Friday morning I think will be nice, and then a couple of team activities just to make sure we're staying focused."

After a strong start on bars where the Nittany Lions posted a 49.325, Penn State saw unusually slightly less success as they placed almost a full point lower than Nebraska on beam, their second to last event. The team looks forward to a change of rotation this Friday, where the balance beam will cap off the meet.

"It's going to be a little bit different for us, but I think we're looking forward to it because we do start on bars, which is a strong event for us," Brown said. "I think we'll be able to carry that energy and momentum into an event like vault, which does take a little bit more energy. I think last week we were a little high after the bar event because we did so well, and when we got to beam it was kind of hard to manage where all that adrenaline and energy was."

Junior Mason Hosek has had a few seasons of travel under her belt, and looks ahead with confidence in her team. After nailing a solid 9.800 on the beam last week, she believes there is nowhere to go but up.

"Being a junior on the team, kind of knowing how the road works, I think the best thing that we have going into this meet is that we have been preparing ending on beam," Hosek said. "That's going to be the make or break of this meet due to the way of rotation, but I also think going on the road is a good opportunity for us to show our strengths. I think our team is a really good team on the road, and is well adapted to any equipment or place we're at, so I think that's going to be a really great time for us. I'm really excited for the freshmen to travel for the first time."

Kourtney Chinnery is a new face on the squad, but says she does not feel any nerves before hitting the road.

"As a freshman, I'm really excited for traveling for the first time with the team. I've really gotten the chance to get to know the girls and spend time with them and they've truly become family to me. I'm not nervous, I'm really excited and I feel like we're really prepared."

Chinnery is additionally excited to showcase her skills in a new event for the freshman. Last week, she performed solely on vault, nabbing an impressive 9.850.

"I'm really excited to show off my new floor routine, I've been working really hard on it," Chinnery said. "I'm just going to go out there with a go get it mindset, I'm going to have confidence and faith in everything I've been doing. I trust God, and I trust the process that we've been going through. I'm just excited to be part of the success of this team this year."

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer    

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The stands of Rec Hall were a sea of pink as the No. 17 Nittany Lions hosted the preseason No. 9 Nebraska Cornhuskers in honor of their Flip for the Cure breast cancer awareness and alumni night competition. The gymnasts donned "throwback" black-and-pink leotards, in the spirit of the Penn State's original colors, as well as in support of breast cancer survivors and battlers. 

 

Coming off of a 194.275-192.900 victory over then-No. 35 Eastern Michigan to open the season, the Nittany Lions felt confident. 


The Cornhuskers took on the bars to start, while the Nittany Lions set up at the vault. Penn State started off strong, with freshman Kourtney Chinnery, junior Sabrina Garcia, and senior Briannah Tsang leading the scoring to tally a 49.075 on vault for the squad--but Nebraska was a force to be reckoned with, outscoring Penn State just barely with a 49.325.


"We knew going in that we were going to have a fight," Tsang said. "It was great to see everyone hit and stick, and unfortunately we had some mistakes, but this is how we learn and move forward."


The Huskers proved to be tough competition with a clean 49.325 score on the vault, but Penn State took the cake for claiming a 49.325 on the bars when the squads swapped events. Freshman Alissa Bonsall and Tsang tied for a first place spot on the event, and the Nittany Lions were able to wrap up the rotation with a lead at 98.400-97.700. 

 

"In regards to our all arounders, last weekend, Bri was steady, and Lauren [Bridgens] was right there with her, and tonight Alissa was fantastic on bars, and Bri was even stronger in the all around," head coach Sarah Brown said. "For our freshmen to be competing in the all-around week in and week out is tough so we need to pace them and pay close attention to how they're responding each week, but overall I'm very very proud of both of them." 

 

The Nittany Lions took on the beam for their next rotation, where a few unfortunate falls brought the squad's scoring down. Despite a combination of 9.8000 scores from both junior Mason Hosek and Tsang's notorious skills on the beam to help Penn State's tally, the Nittany Lions fell short of the Huskers's score of 49.050.


"I think if we find a way to keep our energy up throughout the meet we could be better on the last two events," Bonsall said. "But we have a great team and great cheering so it was nice to have them along with us." 

 

Nebraska claimed a close victory to wrap up the meet, nabbing a 195.550-195.050 win. Penn State gymnasts Bonsall, Bridgens, and Tsang managed to snag three of the five all-around titles. 

 

"I thought tonight was a really good night for our team," Brown said. "We were definitely more confident here in Rec hall than we were last week. I thought we started the week really strong. One of the things I want to keep working on is our stamina throughout the rest of the competition."


The Nittany Lions look ahead with hope as they kick off their away season and travel to Maryland next weekend to continue competition.  

 

"One of my favorite things to do is to break things down as soon as the meet is over, and figure out what I want to do for the next meet," Brown said. "It's going to be interesting because at Maryland we'll actually finish the competition on balance beam, which is the event that we struggled on tonight, so we're going to practice finishing the meet on balance beam instead of on floor."


The Nittany Lions will hit the road for their meet against Maryland on Friday, January 19. 

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a stellar new coach, a Big Ten Freshman of the Week, and a win to knock out their first win of the season, the Nittany Lions have reason to feel confident as they prepare for their upcoming meet against Nebraska, the first meet of their Big Ten slate.

 

This past weekend marked newly-hired Penn State head coach Sarah Brown's first meet of the season with the gymnasts. However, the former Mizzou gymnast and Eastern Michigan head coach has been hard at work with the team since she first stepped foot in State College last May. As the Nittany Lions gear up to take on the Huskers in Rec Hall this Saturday to kick off the Big Ten competition, Brown feels ready to get the home season going. 

 

"My goal when I got here was really to understand the girls' personalities," Brown said. "I really feel like we've spent the last eight months doing that. I definitely know that I'm doing things differently than they have been done in the past, and so getting that trust and buy-in has been huge, and we're all moving at the same pace and the same direction now."

 

Despite falling to Nebraska last season on the road, the combination of a new coaching staff, some new faces on the team, and a first meet win leaves Brown feeling confident.

 

"The first meet was a really solid starting point for us.  We had some mistakes early on in the line ups, but I was proud of how well we recovered," Brown said.  "Now we know we can make the routines, and moving forward we're focusing in on the little details and making sure we're looking at each routine piece by piece."

 

Most recently, new face Lauren Bridgens was honored Big Ten Freshman of the Week after contributing largely to the squad's 194.275-192.900 win over Eastern Michigan last weekend.

 

"It's really exciting for the program that we're already being recognized on that level," Brown said. "It's a starting point, I know if you ask Lauren she knows she has more in her, so I think she's proud of the accomplishment, I'm very proud of her, and I know she's going to continue to get better as the season goes on."

 

The freshman from Maryland agreed that the team can only go up from here.

 

""Now's the time to start focusing on the smaller details," Bridgens said. "I think for our first meet we were focused on getting out there and knowing what it's like to compete together."

 

Senior Brianna Tsang, a familiar face and renowned Nittany Lion gymnast, looks forward to what's to come after a winning all-around score of 39.050 with freshmen teammate Bridgens.

 

"I thought we had a really good team dynamic already going into the season," Tsang said. "Having the first meet was super exciting, we didn't get the chance to have a full intrasquad in Rec hall before this, and the freshmen did really well with that."

 

In addition to kicking off the Big Ten slate, this weekend's meet will be titled Throwback Alumni Night, where the team will welcome gymnastics alumni back to the floor. In addition, the meet will be combined with the Flip for the Cure competition, which focuses on honoring those who have survived and are battling breast cancer.

 

The gymnasts will don new black and pink leotards, marked in the school's original colors, complete with a throwback logo. Following the meet will be an alumni reception, where coach Brown and some of the athletes are excited to converse with and get to know the alumni one-on-one.

 

"This weekend is huge for me, because it's an opportunity for the alumni to be here and be part of the program again," Brown said. "It's very important to me that the athletes recognize who came before them and how everything was paved before we got here, so we owe these alumni so much and we're so thankful that they're willing to come back."

 

No. 17 Penn State opens Big Ten action on Jan. 13 at 4 p.m. in Rec Hall.

Nittany Lions Ready for the Moment

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a few days separate Penn State women's gymnastics from returning to action its season opener, which kicks off Saturday, Jan. 6 in Rec Hall.

"It's been really exciting, we've been working really hard since I took over in May and since the girls have been back on campus since August," head coach Sarah Brown said. "Each step of the way, they continue to buy in and we continue to push a little bit harder each month. Since we've been back from Christmas break, December 27th, we hit the ground running and I feel like we're going to be ready right at the right time. I'm really looking forward to the first meet of the year."

For the first time since the 2016 campaign, the Nittany Lions will open the year with back-to-back home events. With the staff dialing up the pressure in practice ahead of the opener, Brown is confident Penn State will be ready to go when the moment arrives.

Saturday's home opener also features an opportunity for fans to pick up a schedule poster as well as meet the team for autographs. Before heading out to Rec Hall, check out five things to know ahead of Brown's first season at the helm of the Nittany Lions.

Getting Acclimated
Since arriving on campus in May, a top priority of Brown's was getting to know the Nittany Lions on a deeper level. Together, they've done everything from team bonding activities to community service and team meals. Providing key opportunities to get eachother, for Brown, heading out on the road will also provide a few additional occasions to grow closer as a team once the season gets underway. 

"They're just a fun group of girls," Brown said. "They really care about this university, they care about their sport and they work really hard. It's been fun getting to know them in the gym, but also outside of the gym. We've taken part in some community service events like Toys for Tots and since we've been back from break, we did fun things like an Escape Room and meals at my house and I feel like I've had an opportunity to get to know them outside of the gym."

Back at Home
Excitement is high when it comes to returning to Rec Hall. The Nittany Lions will host Eastern Michigan in a nonconference opener before jumping right into Big Ten action with Nebraska up next. With the return looming, returning to competition has been the total focus as the days tick closer to meet day. Penn State will have the opportunity to test out the new atmosphere, hosting one practice in Rec Hall before the opener arrives.

"We've just been working so hard for this moment," Brown said. "Ever since we started this year and we've had squad 54 together, we've known that it's come down to this weekend. We're really looking forward to kicking the year off strong. I think we're going to do well and I also think we're going to continue to build as the season continues. We're going to continue to build depth at each event and I think the girls are going to be ready at the right time.

Looking at the Big Ten
For Brown, there's no surprises when it comes to the Big Ten, with the Huskers slated for week two, opening up a four-meet swing of all Big Ten opponents. With a total of seven conference teams ranked with the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women (NACGC/W) Preseason Coaches' Poll, Brown is well aware of the strength of the conference.

"It's a strong conference, I think anything can happen and I think it's a long season so we're looking forward to starting off consistent and strong and then continuing to build on that, but also maintaining that level of consistency as we head into the Big Ten Championships in March," Brown said. 

Leadership
Among leadership across the team, Brown was quick to point to lone senior Briannah Tsang as one of the team's most consistent leaders headed into the season. Tsang, who placed 11th in the women's artistic gymnastics all-around final at the World University Games, returns having earned first team All-Big Ten honors in 2016 and 2017. 

"She's just a work horse for us in the gym and she's also really good at connecting with the athletes on a one-on-one level, so I've been really impressed with that," Brown said.

Brown also noted though that she and the staff isn't striving for a one leader only type of atmosphere, instead opting to encourage each individual to try and be a leader in their own way.

An NCAA Regional Site
Looking way ahead, Penn State is one of six NCAA regional sites, which ultimately lead to the NCAA Championships. Only the top 36 teams in the final Regional Qualifying Score (RQS) standings will advance to the NCAA Regionals, which kick off on April 7 in Happy Valley. Penn State is one of six NCAA Regional sites. 

"It's definitely on our minds," Brown said. "It's something we talk about quite frequently, we're very excited for that. We know that we have to do our job throughout the season in order to be a high seed at that regional and we want to be able to do well throughout the season so we can peak at that time."

VIDEO: One-on-One with Sarah Brown

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In early May, Penn State Athletics announced its hiring of women's gymnastics coach Sarah Brown, named the program's eighth head coach in history. 

Quickly and efficiently moved to Happy Valley from a previous stop at Eastern Michigan, where she guided the 2017 team to the MAC regular season title in her first season as head coach, Brown wasted no time getting to know her supporters. From phone calls to lunches, Brown balanced getting to know supporters of the program along with her team, laying the groundwork for a fresh start. With a new vision for the program, Brown assembled her staff and got right to work.

Catch up with Brown for a closer look at what's ahead for Penn State women's gymnastics, the staff and her vision - including a bit about a soon-to-be new member of the family.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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