Recently in Women's Gymnastics Category

Kiera Brown Shines as a First-Time Nittany Lion

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11610393.jpegBy Mandy Bell, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK Pa. - A little girl anxiously waits for her dad to finish signing her up for gymnastics lessons. She sees a foam pit and desperately wants to jump in. She tried to wait for her dad to finish, but she could resist no longer.

Six-year-old Kiera Brown took off for the foam pit and fearlessly jumped in as her dad watched from afar. It was then that Brown and her family knew she was destined to be a gymnast.


With her mom being a former gymnast, gymnastics was in Brown's blood. Aside from her mom, Brown looked up to 10-year member of the United States' national gymnastics team, Dominique Dawes.

"I got to meet [Dawes] at one of my club meets. She signed my first cell phone and I still have it today," Brown said. "She was definitely one of my role models growing up."

From a young age, Brown loved performing floor routines. The floor exercise was the apparatus that she excelled at most, until her sophomore year of high school.

While performing on the floor, Brown ruptured her Achilles tendon. With the support of her family and teammates, she was able to return to gymnastics, but not before tearing her other Achilles tendon two years later.

"That's where most people would say I've had enough of gymnastics," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said. "The fact that she came back and she's now competing in her third year of college is a testament to her strength and courage."

While battling injury, Brown needed a way to continue practicing gymnastics without always having to be on her feet. That is when she turned to the uneven bars.

"After I tore my Achilles, the bars were the only thing I could do," Brown said. "So it then became my favorite event because I got good at it."

Brown took her talent on the bars to the University of Georgia to start her collegiate career. As a Gym Dog, Brown was named All-SEC in 2014 after tying for second on the uneven bars at the SEC Championship and finished the 2014 season as tied for 19th in the nation on the uneven bars.

After two seasons at the University of Georgia, Brown decided to make a change. She looked at multiple schools in the SEC and had dreamed of going to school in Florida since she was a little girl, but once she visited Penn State, there was no going back.

"Right when I came on the visit it was just like 'yeah this was it'," Brown said. "The campus was beautiful. I loved Rachelle [Thompson] and Jeff [Thompson] and the way they talked about the girls, I knew this was the team I wanted to be apart of."

Coach Thompson knew that Brown's personality and experience would fit in well on his young team. Making a name for herself on the bars in high school and college, Brown knew there were high expectations of her coming to this Penn State team. However, Coach Thompson had even more.

"We told her when she transferred here that we saw her as an all-arounder. She never competed as an all around gymnast at Georgia," Thompson said. "But she's known since day one that those were our expectations of her.

In her first meet as a Nittany Lion this past weekend, Brown led Penn State in the all-around category with a score of 38.950 tying for second overall. Brown scored a 9.60 on the vault, 9.70 on the floor, 9.80 on the balance beam and a stellar 9.95 on the uneven bars.

"I think for her to go 9.95 on bars in the first meet of the year is a testament to her," Thompson said. "We knew she was one of the best bar workers in the country, but this basically tells everybody that it doesn't matter if she's in a red leotard or blue leotard the judges recognize that routine as being outstanding."

The Nittany Lions host Nebraska on Saturday at 4 p.m. during the annual "Flip For The Cure" meet in Rec Hall.

 

Nittany Lions Find Positives in Season Opener

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11603307.jpegBy Mandy Bell, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team kicked off its 2016 season in front of a whiteout crowd Saturday afternoon in Rec Hall. A close-knit Nittany Lion team came up just short, 194.700-194.125, against North Carolina State in the season-opener.

"We will have meets like this where we have the fall bug," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "But we are going to have meets maybe like next weekend where we upset a Nebraska or somebody that we are not supposed to beat."

The falls came during the third rotation as the Nittany Lions took on the balance beam. Penn State came up short on the event, 49.075-47.950.  It was the only event that the Nittany Lions did not win on the afternoon.   

"To have three falls on the beam at the first meet of the year is disappointing, but it is also something we can learn from," Thompson said.  "Until you have those teachable moments, you can't really advance."

Inexperience calls for teachable moments and the Nittany Lions have just that.  Of the 14 gymnasts on the roster, seven are freshmen and one is a junior transfer.

"Having a lot of freshmen is not a challenge, it's more of an opportunity," Thompson said. "There's eight new people and they will all be back next year."

Besides the seven freshmen, the other half of the Nittany Lion's team is made up of three sophomores and four juniors. Without having senior guidance on the team, Coach Thompson turns to his quartet of juniors to lead his young team.

"I'm making sure I am being a good leader as a junior," Brown said. "But because our chemistry is so close-knit, it doesn't make it as hard."

Brown is not the only person who believes this team is close.  Coach Thompson believes that this is the only team he has ever coached that has gotten so close so quickly.

"This is the closest team that we have ever had at the beginning of the season," Thompson said.  "Normally, it takes until mid February after they have shared a hotel room together and got to know each other, that's when you see the team come together.  But, it's already happened and that's the coolest thing."

"Competing at college is different [from high school] because it's not just for yourself anymore," freshman Sabrina Garcia said. "It's all for your team."

Having the close-knit bond and the "team first" mentality is something that the gymnasts and coaches believe will carry this team throughout the season. 

"We know there are great things in store for this team," Thompson said. "But it's going to be a roller coaster."

Gene Wettstone and Gymnastics Success Recognized in Facility Upgrades

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IMG_5617.JPGBy Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "Throughout his 36 year coaching tenure, Gene Wettstone achieved an unmatched level of success. His dedication to his student-athletes, Penn State, and the sport of gymnastics established him as a pillar among his peers. In honor of his outstanding contributions as coach, mentor, and friend, this facility proudly bears his name."

Those are the words engraved in the gymnastics practice facility located inside the White Building, now named the 'Gene Wettstone Gymnastics Complex,' to honor the history of Wettstone and both the men's and women's gymnastics programs.

Wettstone was a legendary Penn State men's gymnastics coach. He brought Penn State and collegiate gymnastics to the forefront by leading the Nittany Lions to nine NCAA championships (the most by any men's gymnastics coach), 13 Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League victories, more than 200 meet wins, 35 individual national titles, 13 Olympians and three Nissen-Emery honorees.

He left a mark on Penn State that could never be forgotten, and that is now displayed in tremendous fashion at the facility.

Before fully entering the gymnastics complex, curved trophy cases, with blue light glowing from the top and the bottom, can now be seen on both sides. The left side features the achievements of women's gymnastics and the right side shows the numerous accolades of men's gymnastics.

When walking towards the complex, a picture of Wettstone and a short biography of him can be seen. In the complex, on the right wall, images of past men gymnasts are shown alongside the number of Olympians, team national championships and individual national championships. There are also displays for the Nissen-Emery Award winners. Down the hallway are two displays of the individual national champions as well as the Olympians.

"It's just nice to be able to have our story in a visual way now for people to really see and understand," said men's gymnastics head coach Randy Jepson. "We couldn't do that before; we could talk about it, but there was no real visual way to do that, where people could really grasp the success of the program. It's unprecedented the NCAA record of individual titles and team titles, much less the Olympians and the international success that Penn State has developed."

But this renovation does not just inspire visitors, it encourages the current team, too.

"[The team and I] talk about the legacy and the standard of what Gene established and what we want to see continue here, and they walk by it every day. It's a constant reminder of the standard that they're to aspire to," said Jepson. "When you walk into the gym, you see 12 Championship banners for the NCAA and three Big Ten banners. My reminder to them is that it's not the banners hanging there, it's the empty space on the wall. The guys that were outside on the wall earned honors, like the Nissen-Emery or Olympian or a national champion. They are the standard, and you can't walk by that without being inspired and motivated."

On the left side of the complex, the women's gymnastics program is featured. The left wall shows the number of All-Americans, team national championships and national championship appearances seen throughout its history. The individual champions and the female gymnasts that earned a perfect 10.0 score are also honored.

The current women's gymnastics roster is presented on the side wall where each gymnast's individual headshots, name and hometown is shown.

"When you want teams to win championships, you need to treat them like champions. If they feel like  a champion, then they are more likely to perform like champions," said women's gymnastics head coach Jeff Thompson. "So the first day, when the team all rounded the corner saw their headshots out there, you should have heard them...They all had a sense of Penn State pride."

Both programs feature a rich history of success on the competition floor and in the classroom. Donations and fundraising efforts made the enhancements possible.

"That says a lot. That the donors were willing to do that and to give the money and recognize the women's achievements even though we've only been around since the early '60s," said Thompson. "We don't have the long history that the men have, but there are a lot of good things that happened here. For them to give that much money so we can look equal is awesome."

Two years ago, when Wettstone was approaching 100 years old, fellow alumni, especially Ira Stolzer, co-captain of the 1976 national champion men's gymnastics team, wished to create something to honor Wettstone's legacy as well as the future of the men's gymnastics program.

Stolzer and all the captains from the Varsity 'S' Club led the fundraising efforts for the department and renovation. In only 90 days, Stolzer and the committee were able to raise nearly $500,000 from former Penn State gymnasts and former Penn State gymnasts' families and friends. Wettstone passed in July, 2013, less than one month after turning 100.


"Ira Stolzer has just been a tremendous guy to our team and our program here," said Jepson. "He's really done a lot for Penn State, and this is the guy that could do anything he wants, and he puts a lot of effort into this. We're fortunate for him."

There were numerous people that stepped up to help with the program and some names are included on a plaque in the Gene Wettstone Gymnastics Complex.

"It's just great to be able to showcase [all the accomplishments], and be able to have that support from our alumni," said Jepson. "We're very gracious and appreciative of what they have done. They've just been very gracious with their gifts, and it's really a real tribute to Gene...There's a lot of people that contributed to make this happen, and it just really makes a statement about how they feel about Gene and how he made an impact on the individuals when he was here."

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VIDEO: 2014-15 Year in Review with Sandy Barbour

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com talks with Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour to review a superb 2014-15 season for Penn State Athletics.





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VIDEO: 2014-15 Season Highlights

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's 2014-15 season was one marked by excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community. GoPSUsports.com takes a look back at the campaign in a season highlight reel.


Commemorating 25 Years of Penn State and the Big Ten

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Penn State has won 92 Big Ten titles, including 21 in women's soccer (16 regular season).



By Tony Mancuso
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just four months into his tenure as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, Jim Delany recalls an idea brought to the table by former Illinois President Stan Ikenberry.

It was October of 1989 when Ikenberry, who spent time as a senior administrator at Penn State earlier in his career, broached the thought of adding an institution to the Big Ten for the first time since Michigan State was invited to become a member in 1949.

The Big Ten then began a formal research process of an institution that would bridge a Midwestern league to the East.

The Pennsylvania State University was on the table for discussion as a superb academic institution with a rich tradition in athletic success.

Delany, whose sister attended Penn State as a graduate student, didn't need much convincing. He knew the level of potential a partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten could foster.

"The Big Ten hadn't changed in many, many decades, but I thought if the opportunity to expand presented itself it was a no brainer," Delany said earlier this week. "Excellent academics. Excellent athletics. And pointed towards the East Coast, I thought there was a lot of potential there. That was my recommendation at the time."

The process moved forward with the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten institutions discussing the topic before news broke just before the holidays in December of 1989 that Penn State could be on its way into a new conference. Under the direction of athletic director Jim Tarman at the time, Penn State had been competing as an independent in football for more than a century, and the rest of the department had been a member of the Atlantic 10 since 1976.

When the news initially surfaced, women's volleyball head coach Russ Rose, who along with field hockey coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss are the two current Penn State head coaches who were on staff in 1989, was giving a presentation at the annual women's volleyball coaches convention (AVCA) about the importance of NCAA Tournament at-large bids for teams in smaller conferences.

"I remember talking in front of the group about the importance that not all of the at-large bids go to the bigger conferences and that there were good teams in other conferences even though they didn't have the same notoriety, said Rose. "We have a lunch break. I turn on ESPN at lunch, and I see that Penn State is going to be a member of the Big Ten. I come back. I say to some people that I would like to retract what I said about at-large teams."

The formal process concluded with a vote in Iowa City on June 4, 1990, at which time Penn State was officially accepted as a member of the Big Ten Conference. Twenty-five years have passed in a partnership that allowed both the University and conference to reach unprecedented heights on the field and in the classroom.

"From a broad perspective, at the time, my view was that it was a tremendous fit for both sides. And history has proven that," Delany said. "With all the other expansions around the country, I'm not sure there was one that benefitted both institution and conference as much as this did, largely because of the characteristics of Penn State were so well matched with the characteristics of the Big Ten."

The positive news zipped throughout campus shortly after the vote in Iowa.

"I remember hearing about the announcement from Mary Jo Haverbeck, from the Sports Information office," said Morett-Curtiss. "She told me about us going in and how it was going to have a major impact for women's athletics at Penn State."

It was an announcement that changed the landscape of funding and development for all of Penn State's 28 programs at the time, and it was a day Morett-Curtiss remembers quite well.

"Ironically, I had gone for a run that day on the trails near Sunset Park and as I'm running, I see someone walking in front of me and it was Joe Paterno," Morett-Curtiss said. "And it was that day, so I said to him, 'hey what's going to happen?' He said, 'I think this is going to be a really good thing for Penn State and the exposure all of the programs are going to get.'"

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The women's volleyball program captured Penn State's first Big Ten title in 1992, marking volleyball's first of 16 conference crowns.

 
Penn State's teams felt the impact of the Big Ten conference almost immediately.

"What it did for us when we joined the Big Ten is that it No. 1 it resulted in a reassessment of the levels of commitment we had to the various programs," Rose said. "We became fully funded when we joined the Big Ten. Prior to that, we were not fully funded. And we were not fully staffed. Entering Big Ten, collectively, for all of the sports resulted in us having a new commitment from the University to try and be competitive. From a volleyball perspective, we had been competitive prior to that, but playing in the Big Ten in women's volleyball made us better because the level of competition was better than we were experiencing in the Atlantic 10."

At the time, women's volleyball had just one assistant coach on the staff alongside Rose and nine scholarships to field a roster. Joining the Big Ten boosted the program to full funding and 12 scholarships.

"As I look at it now, we could have had some great teams if we had funding in the early years," said Rose. "That was just the way that it was.  When you take a job, that is the job you took. When we joined the Big Ten, a lot of us got a better job without having to move. But it's way more competitive. Recruiting is a lot different than what we had experienced in the Atlantic 10."

The same can be said for what Morett-Curtiss experienced within the field hockey program.

"The financial support from a scholarship standpoint was huge right away," said Morett-Curtiss. "And knowing our field that we were going to build was going to be a first rate facility."

The investment for success around the Big Ten stood out during Penn State's transition. Every institution and athletic program strives to be the best. It's a trait that has not changed during the department's 25 years as a member, and it's something that will be a trademark of the Big Ten for decades to come.

"The level of commitment to being good across the conference, everybody cared," said Rose. "I don't believe every conference across the country has that sort of commitment in all of their sports. I think that is one of the things that makes the Big Ten really unique. If they offer it, they care and they want to be relevant."

Penn State's time in the Big Ten has been marked by excellence in the classroom and on the field of play. In all, Penn State's programs have accounted for 92 Big Ten championships from 15 different programs - 76 regular season and 16 post-season. Additionally, more than 170 student-athletes have accounted for nearly 300 individual Big Ten titles.

Penn State student-athletes have earned more than 5,000 Academic All-Big Ten recognitions since it joined the conference, with its three highest totals during the past three years, led by 296 in 2012-13.

"Penn State's entrance into the Big Ten not only changed the intercollegiate sports landscape, it also changed our academic landscape and our future. Our size, our academic reputation and our athletic tradition matched up well with Big Ten schools," said Penn State President Eric Barron, who also noted that all Big Ten schools are flagship universities for their states. "The academic side of the Big Ten is known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the institutions together have annual research expenditures topping $10.2 billion -- more than the Ivy League and the University of California System combined -- and they educate a total of nearly 600,000 students. The benefits from being part of such an outstanding and prestigious organization with such an expansive footprint across the nation are immeasurable."

The women's volleyball program earned Penn State's first Big Ten crown during the 1992 season, just one year after the team began competing in the league. The title marked the first of Penn State's superlative 16 Big Ten titles in women's volleyball, in addition to seven NCAA Championships since 1999.

Like women's volleyball, the women's soccer program has been a benchmark of success in conference play. The program became the department's 29th varsity sport in 1994. Since then, Penn State has won an unprecedented 16 conference titles, including a string of 15-straight from 1998-2012.

The football program claimed the Big Ten title in its second season of competition during an undefeated Rose Bowl championship campaign in 1994. Coach Joe Paterno's '94 squad became the first Big Ten team to ever post a 12-0 record. The '94 crown marked the program's first of three Big Ten championships to date (2005 and 2008).

The fall season of 2005 stands out as a monumental period in Penn State's history within the conference. Nittany Lion teams clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days. The list included field hockey, football, men's soccer, women's soccer and women's volleyball. Since the fall of 2005, Penn State teams have won 51 Big Ten championships (5.1 titles per year in a 10-year span).

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Penn State clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days during the fall of 2005, including one for the women's volleyball team.



It's impossible to quantify how the partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten altered the recruiting landscape for the teams on campus and how the recruiting gains equated to success on the field of play. But pitching a world-renowned education with an elite conference affiliation cultivated relationships with premier student-athletes.

"The name recognition was big for football, but when you see how many of the Universities and programs have been successful on a national level, I think that has greatly helped," Morett-Curtiss. "Exposure for all of the Universities within the conference has helped us all grow. Combining the academic side of what these Universities have with the athletics, it's a very powerful combination when we go out recruiting student-athletes."

A big piece to the exposure of Penn State teams during the past 25 years was the launch of the Big Ten Network on Aug. 30, 2007. More than 800 Penn State sporting events have aired live on the BTN since it launched. The benefits of the conference's TV network, which is in more than 60 million homes,  increased visibility across the country for the department in a way that cannot be measured.

"The Network was a major step for us," Morett-Curtiss. "Just having the opportunity to have games on TV so that little girls can watch and learn about the sport. It's helped, not only exposure for the program, but it's helped the sport grow. It's just a phenomenal avenue for us to showcase our University and the sport."

The BTN's impact goes back to what Rose talked about as one of the immediate impacts his program felt - funding. Not only did the BTN infinitely increase exposure for Penn State teams, it has played a paramount role in increased revenues for each institution.

"Certainly, the Big Ten Network has been instrumental in generating funds for the Universities and the conference and the bowl revenue sharing has resulted in more money for all of the schools and the conference," said Rose.

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In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.

 

While the competitive atmosphere is intense between teams across all of the conference's sports, each member institution understands that the individual success aids in the growth of the collective conference.

"I think the relationship has been a really positive one," said Rose. "There are a lot of similarities between the various Universities."

"Everybody in the Big Ten shares what they do and why they do it; best practices," said Dave Baker, Associate Athletic Director for Business Operations. "We share lots of ideas, at least from the business manager and ticketing perspective. We learn things from one another. And there aren't secrets. We all work together and try to help each other out...We all don't do things the same way. We all have limitations, but we are all looking to help one another out for the betterment of the conference.

"Some people would find it hard to believe that people in the Big Ten root for other Big Ten teams in the postseason, but we do. We follow what is going on...It is a cooperative spirit and a partnership."

Baker is one of just a handful of Penn State administrators and coaches who have been with Intercollegiate Athletics during the past 25 years. That list includes Jan Bortner, who was head coach of the men's tennis team in 1990 and has since transitioned into a role as an associate athletic director. Among the key changes Baker felt from the business operation centered on travel. Bus trips were the norm for Penn State teams in the Atlantic 10, but the geography of the Big Ten led to more plane travel.

A quarter century has passed since initial discussions of a new relationship took place and bonds were formed. Many things have changed significantly for Penn State, the conference and intercollegiate athletics nationwide, but it's been 25 years marked by growth stemming from a vision in 1989.

"Pennsylvania is a very important state. It served as a bridge to the East for us. It made our football offerings stronger," said Delany. "It has been excellence with national championships in a variety of sports. And I have always felt that the 1994 Penn State team was the best team in the country; no disrespect to Nebraska. When you look at the players that team had (five first team All-Americans on offense) and what that group accomplished. That team was the national runner-up. That was a tremendous football team. I've seen some very good basketball teams both on the men's side and the women's side. And obviously, the wrestling and volleyball programs have been dominant on the national scene."

Penn State has won a total of 27 national championships since joining the Big Ten, including three in 2013-14, and the department's collective success speaks for itself.

By no means was the integration in 1990 an easy one, but the partnership between the University and Big Ten is a match that enabled both sides to mutually prosper in a way neither side could have envisioned when the formal vote concluded 25 years ago today.


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The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten titles in March of 2011.





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VIDEO: Inside Look at Success on the Vault

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By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Sprinting toward a stationary object might not be something that people typically choose to do voluntarily. For the Penn State women's gymnastics team, that is something that they do best.

Vault is a tricky apparatus to master. If you don't run fast enough, you wont have enough momentum to make a full rotation. If you can't make a full rotation, you might become one with the landing mat. But, if everything goes right, this skill is incredibly impressive.

The Nittany Lions have had an exceptional season on vault, continuously putting up big numbers in the event. Heading into this weekend's NCAA Regional Championships, Penn State is ranked No. 3 on this apparatus.

"We just need to do what we do in practice," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We stick vaults in meets. We stick vaults at practice. This tournament just needs to be an extension of that so we can put up the best score possible."

The vaults that these gymnasts perform are a continuation of a skill set that they have developed since their "club" days. When freshman gymnasts come in, they typically perform a vault, with an added skill, that they had performed before coming to college. For freshman Briannah Tsang, vault is one of her favorite events, one that she has mastered since winning the 2013 Elite Canada Vault Title.

"I love this event," Tsang said. "It is a power event and that is one of my strengths. We work really hard on this event."

Throughout the course of the 2014-15 season, various Nittany Lions have broken the ever-coveted 9.900 mark on vault, with a handful breaking a 9.925.

"We have a lot of variety to our vaults," Krystal Welsh said. "We all don't just do a Yurchenko Full. We have a lot of different skills that we are able to perform well, which helps set us apart."

The Penn State women's gymnastics team will take the floor in the NCAA Regional Championships on Saturday at 4:45 p.m. in Norman, Oklahoma.

Krystal Welsh: 'I am going to miss this'

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10954653.jpegBy Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As a collegiate athlete, when you commit to a school, you are committing to the coach and program, too. For senior Krystal Welsh, her commitment to Penn State wasn't something that was going to change with a shift in coaching leadership; she was meant to be a Nittany Lion.


"We are so happy she stuck with us from the beginning," women's gymnastics head coach Jeff Thompson said. "She committed to the previous coaching staff and she could have left if she wanted to. But, she stayed and we are, have been so grateful for that."

Four years ago, the then freshman began her collegiate gymnastics career as an all-around competitor. The Maryland native and Junior Olympic Nationals competitor was excited to continue competing close to home so her family would be able to watch her preform regularly.

"As soon as I stepped on this campus I knew it was for me," Welsh said. "I absolutely loved it, everything about this place felt like home. Looking back, we were such babies when we were freshman; I know I have grown so much as a person since then."

Being an all-around competitor is no easy feat and even harder for a rookie. Welsh's confidence in her craft and ability to perform in every event has helped guide a rather successful career for the Nittany Lion.

As a freshman, she competed in every meet for the Nittany Lions, including the NCAA Regional Championships. She claimed her spot in the starting rotation from the get-go, a spot she has owned for four years.

"Every year of competing in college has helped me learn how to step up," Welsh said. "I have learned so much about myself and have learned how hard I can push myself."

If Welsh's career at Penn State could be summed up in one word it would be consistency, a word Coach Thompson has used to describe her on more than one occasion. She has been present in the rotation for every meet, except on two occasions, in her entire career. It wasn't until her senior year where she missed a stick on vault for the first time. 

"She has been an all around competitor from the start," Thompson said. "She is just a joy to watch. She is incredibly consistent, which gives her confidence. Confidence is contagious. She has such a positive attitude and that is contagious, too. Krystal [Welsh] just gives off this 'I know I am going to rock this routine' vibe and it rubs off on the whole team. That is something I am going to miss about her."

The senior has taken on a 'big sister' role on the team, not just because of her success in the gym, but for her innate leadership skills. Her leadership doesn't go unnoticed, as she is a member of the Athletic Director's Leadership Institute at Penn State and was a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award Honoree this year.

"She leads quietly," Thompson said. "She leads by example. Krystal could be having a bad day, but you would never know it. She never brings a negative attitude into the gym because she knows that people look up to her. When one of the younger girls is having a bad day, she is the first to take them aside and talk it out with them."

Welsh's innate big sister qualities have not only made her a great role model, but have influenced her desire to pursue a career in a field where she can help people.

"I want to be an Occupational Therapist," Welsh said. "I have had to come back from injury, I know how hard it is physically and mentally. I want to be able to relate to people in that sense and use my experience to help someone else."

Much like Welsh, gymnastics is a unique sport. Where most collegiate sports opportunities can lead to professional opportunities, gymnastics works in the opposite direction. Typically, gymnasts will work towards the Olympic team before coming to college. Looking back on the past four years, Welsh has no regrets on the path that she chose.

"I am happy with what I have done," Welsh said. "Sure, we set goals each week and at the start of the season, but I have accomplished all that I have wanted to do in this sport. This sport has taught me so much, lessons I know I will take with me after I graduate. I am going to miss it." 

Alex Witt Reaching New Height on Uneven Bars and in the Classroom

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10856891.jpegBy Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When most kids are an 11-year-old, their career is usually the last thing on their mind. Penn State women's gymnastics senior Alex Witt was different; she has always known that she wanted to become a doctor.

If the Florida native knew one thing for certain, aside from her desired career path, she knew that she wanted to continue competitive gymnastics in college. She needed to find a school that would allow her to excel in the classroom and in the gym, and Penn State was that place.

"Moving up here was a huge adjustment for me," Witt said. "I was hundreds of miles away from home. But, by the end of sophomore year, I was involved with clubs, doing really well in school. You have to take advantage of everything this school has to offer."

Witt's junior year was a roller coaster ride; she missed the first eight meets of the season due to a thumb injury. Witt's primary event is uneven bars and was unable to train her upper-body for a good portion of the season.

"It was crazy," Witt said. "I had to have surgery on my thumb and then I was out for three months. But, I never lost faith that I would be back at sometime that season. I did walkthroughs with the team in the gym and was constantly doing cardio. Uneven bars is my best event, so I knew I just had to keep my mind fresh."

After three months of rehabilitation, Witt was ready to start to fight her way back into the starting rotation.

"We had to shuffle some things around in the lineup before NCAA Regionals last year," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "If Alex [Witt] didn't step up and perform as well as she did on bars, I don't know if we would have made it to the [NCAA] championships."

At the 2014 NCAA Regionals, Witt delivered a career defining performance, scoring a 9.850 on uneven bars. Her score not only lifted the team to the NCAA Championships, proved to her that she was 'back' and ready to compete.

This mentality that she has grown into because of gymnastics has influenced her desire to become an emergency room doctor or even venture into cardiology.

"Being an athlete has taught me how to deal with high pressure situations," Witt said. "As an ER doctor, I would have to be aware of multiple patients at once. Being able to focus and have a clear head is something that I have learned from this sport. I know that I would be prepared for that line of work."

This season, Witt has been consistent, delivery solid performances on bars at every meet. She is not only a senior, but also a leader in the event category. Penn State has always been solid, consistently, on floor and vault, but this year Witt's dedication has forged a path for new success on the apparatus.

"Alex [Witt] is the type of kid you want to recruit," Thompson said. "She is a hard worker, but she also knows how to have a good time. She makes you laugh and really understands that you have to take the good with the bad and make the most of it."

Most recently, Witt helped the team to a securing it's second highest bar score of the season at the Big Ten Championships. Witt's 9.850 performance helped the team to a 49.275 finish in the category.

"You just have to breathe," Witt said. "At the end of the day, it is just a sport, you can't be too hard on yourself. Things aren't going to go your way 100 percent of the time. In club gymnastics, you only compete for yourself, but college is different. Here, you compete for your teammates, coaches, all while representing your school. If you keep perspective, everything will be okay."

By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The Penn State women's gymnastics team begins its quest for the Big Ten title tomorrow in Ann Arbor, Mich. After a rather successful season under the helm of head coach Jeff Thompson, who came into the Penn State fold just five years ago, the Nittany Lions enter the post-season with only two regular season losses.

The success of this team lies within their dedication and consistency in the practice gym, where coach Thompson tells his gymnasts to "compete how they practice." While many challenge the saying, "practice makes perfect," these gymnasts have dedicated themselves to it.

"These girls have been so successful because they trust each other," Thompson said. "Each and every one of them has stepped up, at some point, this season. We have had girls rotating events and changing lineups and they have adjusted well to that. We are one team."

Event Break Down: Bye-Rounds and B1G Momentum

The Nittany Lions finished second at the Big Five meet last weekend, giving them the momentum they need as they head into the Big Ten Championships. This tournament is different than any other: bye rounds are awarded to various teams throughout the tournament, a major change from the traditional meet. Typically, teams have a set rotation based on whether they are the home or away team at a meet, a routine that the gymnasts adjust too all season.

Penn State has been awarded two bye rounds during the tournament. How the team will handle two bye rounds will come down to their ability to channel their energy and adrenaline, something they have worked on all season.

Bye rounds aside, the Nittany Lions have a rather different rotation than they are used to. They will open on bars, then head over to beam, before making their way to floor, and finishing off on vault.

"We have to focus on sticking our handstands and dismounts on bars," Thompson said. "If we can stick our landings on bars, that momentum will transfer to beam."

The Nittany Lions close out on the two strongest events in their rotation: floor and vault.

"I want our girls to really connect with the audience and the judges when they are performing on floor," Thompson said. "Floor is an event meant for storytelling and if they can do that, they will be successful. Vault has been our event all season and I am confident that we will do what we have done consistently all season."

Thompson's Team

This team is equally as trusting of one another as they are competitive. Coach Thompson, along with his staff, has built an environment, which breeds a team-first mentality. Thompson's gymnasts were able to score a 196.650 on the road, the fifth highest road score in school history.

Where To Watch

You can watch your Nittany Lions on the Big Ten Network. The meet starts Saturday, March 21 at 11:30 a.m. 

@GOPSUSPORTS

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