By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERISTY PARK - Noah Benner is 11 years old and has already had three brain surgeries in his short life. In 2014, Benner had surgery to remove his third brain tumor. His little sister, Sydney, had to mature quicker than any other 4-year-old to support her older brother.
"Sydney has been amazing through everything with Noah. After Noah was released from the hospital for the third surgery, we were in the car and she grabbed his hand and started to show some tears. She said, 'Noah, I'm so glad you are okay. I was very worried about you and I love you,'" Sydney and Noah's mother, Tiffany Benner, said. "During school they were asked to write their New Year's resolution. She wrote that her resolution is to help her brother fight his brain tumor."
The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation heard of the Benner family's story through the Marion-Walker Elementary School's mini-THON. The foundation pairs children with pediatric brain tumors and their siblings with high school and college athletic teams. After the foundation reached out to the Benner family, the Penn State football team adopted Noah and the Penn State women's gymnastics team adopted Sydney.
Sydney started gymnastics when she was three, so she was extremely excited to be paired with the gymnastics team. Once the "adoption" was official, the team invited Sydney to come to a Sunday afternoon practice.
"We met the coaches and the girls at the White Building during one of their practices. We met Rachelle (Thompson) right in the hallway by the gym and she accepted Sydney with open arms," Tiffany Benner said. "We went into the gym during practice and they had balloons, gifts and a cake for Sydney. Then she went down to the locker room and saw her own locker. Inside was a Christmas stocking and leotards. It was amazing."
Since her first meeting with the team, Sydney has attended almost every Penn State home meet and goes to their practices whenever it fits her schedule. During school, it is harder for Sydney to be able to make practices. Winter break is when she is able to spend the most time with the team.
"She's not intimidated at all. The funny thing is, when she comes into the gym for practice, she'll just run across the floor and jump on me for a hug," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said. "You just got to get down on one knee and she will just jump on you, wrap her arms around you and squeeze your neck. It's great. She's fearless."
When Penn State has a home meet, Sydney is part of the team. She hangs out in the locker room before the meet and marches out with the team to be announced to the crowd. During the meet, she spends most of her time with teammates Emma Sibson and Tina Postiglione.
"She hangs out with the team and every time we switch rotations she throws t-shirts out with us. She's always cheering and is so much fun," Postiglione said. "Every single time, I make sure she gets lifted up when someone finishes their routine to give high-fives to the girls. So instead of me high-fiving, it's like me and Sydney together as a little team high-fiving the girl."
As much as Penn State has impacted Sydney's life, she has made a difference on this Nittany Lion team.
"We talk to the team about when you come to the gym everyday, remember that little girl that first started gymnastics. Remember the kid that used to bounce on the couch and get yelled at by your parents. Remember the one that would do flips on their bed," Thompson said. "That's the little girl inside you that loves gymnastics and you have to find that little girl every day, especially on the days that its tougher for you. And for them to be able to look at her, even though it may only be once a week, to look at her and say, 'Yeah I remember when I felt like that'. It's a good thing for our team."
Sydney keeps in touch with her Penn State teammates outside of the gymnasium by having her mom Facebook message them or by "snapchatting" the girls from her own Snapchat account. Sydney plans to be with the team as long as they will have her around.
"I want to grow up to be a Penn State gymnast just like them," Sydney said.
Sydney and Noah will be at THON this weekend with their adopted teams and also their THON organization, Lion Scouts.
The Nittany Lions will host Denver, Cornell and Alabama in Rec Hall at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Recently in Women's Gymnastics Category
By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com
Student Staff Writer
By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - Emma Sibson was ready to start off her junior season strong after being named second-team All-Big Ten and tying for fifth on the vault at the B1G Championships in 2015.
As Penn State neared the season-opening meet against North Carolina State, Sibson went down with a hamstring injury and had to watch the team's first three meets from the sidelines.
With the team consisting of seven freshmen, three sophomores and four juniors, the Nittany Lions lost one of its key leaders with much experience in collegiate competition.
"It was a different perspective being on the sideline. It gave me a chance to step up as a leader with my voice and not just my actions in the gym," Sibson said. I think I helped a lot on the sideline with little things like confidence level like, 'Hey you got it, don't be nervous,' or helping with bad days."
Watching her team get off to a slow start, Sibson pushed herself to try to get competition-ready as quickly as she could, but unfortunately for her, it is a slow process.
"I did a lot of bike work to keep my endurance and a lot of upper body stuff," Sibson said. "For rehab I did a lot of things to make my hamstring stronger and the muscles around it so it would heal better."
After only being able to compete five gymnasts on the floor routine against Illinois in the team's previous meet, the Nittany Lions desperately were searching for a sixth gymnast to help take some pressure off of the team. Two days before travelling to Michigan State, Sibson knew she would be able to step up.
Sibson's floor routine is what edged the Nittany Lions over the Spartans in the third rotation. After a fall by a teammate, Penn State relied on Sibson to clutch her routine in order to keep the Nittany Lions in the lead. Sibson "stuck" her routine and scored a 9.850 to give Penn State a .75 lead going into the final rotation.
"It gave the rest of the team more confidence. The Illinois meet we obviously only had five girls to do floor routines, so it adds a lot of pressure knowing that you have to hit your routine and unfortunately one of the girls fell," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "So, having Emma in the lineup as the sixth person, we did have someone fall, but Emma was able to hit in the anchor spot and cover, so we didn't have to count that fall. That's why we were able to post the highest score of the year so far."
Not only did Sibson save the Nittany Lions on the floor routine, but she also took home the vault title posting a 9.825.
"Emma's two strongest events are vault and floor," said Thompson. "She's shown over the last two years she's one of the best in the country so not having her in the lineup the last three meets effected our team score obviously. So getting her back from the hamstring injury was great for our team and program. She went out there and performed like we expected by winning vault and tying for second on floor."
Penn State was able to celebrate both the return of Emma Sibson and the team gaining its first victory of the season.
"It felt amazing. I was coming off of 5 weeks being off," Sibson said. "I definitely knew my scores could help the team out. Coming off of three losses, I wanted nothing more than to be able to contribute and help."
The Nittany Lions walked away from the Michigan State victory thinking they found the missing puzzle piece to a team that continued to come up just short of its opponents for three straight meets.
Penn State will travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
By Mandy Bell, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Briannah Tsang stands in front of a crowd of more than 1,500 people in Rec Hall. She stares at the vault table 25 meters away, envisioning the perfect routine.
"Usually I think to breathe and try to make my vault as normal as possible," Tsang said. "I don't want to put too much energy into it and make myself go flying."
Tsang takes off running down the runway. She runs as fast as she can in order to have as much momentum as possible to perform her vault. As Tsang approaches the vault table, she does a round off onto the springboard lifting her up to the table. Using the momentum she built up, she must powerfully push off of the table to propel herself into the air. She must flip and twist in the air while trying to keep a perfectly tight form with her toes pointed. In order to get a high score, Tsang must then "stick" her landing.
"Once I stick my landing, it's the greatest feeling ever. I can't even describe it. It's not the same as sticking any of the other events," Tsang said. "Sticking vault is just different for me because I'm not as consistent sticking the landing."
Despite what Tsang might say, the vault has been her most consistent event of the 2016 season. In the team's first three home meets, the Canada native has taken home all three of the vault titles with a 9.825 and two 9.850s. In 2014, she claimed the vault title at the Canadian National Championships and won the 2011 Canada Winter Games vault crown.
"Her senior year in high school she was the elite national champion on vault in Canada. So that would be like being the McKayla Maroney of Canada at the time," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said. "To see that she's ranked that highly on vault isn't surprising, it's expected."
The vault was not always Tsang's favorite apparatus. When Tsang was a little girl, she had no gymnastics influence in her life. Her mom worked at a hospital, and Tsang knew that one day she would follow in her mom's footsteps. However, an event that most four-year-olds would consider a fun party ended up changing Tsang's life.
"I went to a gymnastics birthday party at a local gym and I just loved it," Tsang said. "I learned that I loved tumbling and that started my love for not just gymnastics, but for floor."
The floor exercise is where Tsang first started tumbling and experimenting with different routines. But, as she advanced as a gymnast, Tsang started to become more interested in other events.
"I just got better and better at vault," Tsang said. "It just started to become more fun than what I was doing on floor."
Although it is no longer her favorite event, Tsang is coming off of tying her career-best score with the Nittany Lions with a 9.925 last weekend against Illinois.
"One of the unique things is when we train on floor exercise, she uses landing mats on the floor in practice like you see some of the girls do in competition," Thompson said. "But when she gets to the competition, she doesn't want the mats. From an optical standpoint, some may wonder why she needs the mat thinking she's not ready or prepared. So, she won't use the mat in competition."
Tsang has performed in front of huge crowds in many different countries. She remembers a meet that she competed in in Germany that had the biggest crowd she had ever performed in front of and also tried out to be on the Canadian Olympic team in 2012.
"When it comes to nerves, the size of the crowd does not affect me," Tsang said. "The amount of nerves I have comes from my confidence in my gymnastics."
Those nerves are something that is rarely a factor for the sophomore. She has been a gymnast that Coach Thompson and his team have been able to rely on in any situation. She was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last year and Coach Thompson thinks there is more to come.
"She's a great student, she's a great ambassador for Penn State, for the gymnastics program and one of the top athletes I've ever coached in the last 30 years," Thompson said. "She's just phenomenal. We are lucky to have her."
Penn State will travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
UNIVERSITY PARK - Despite a couple remarkable individual performances, the Penn State women's gymnastics team came up just short of No. 17 Illinois 195.725-195.025 Friday evening.
"I feel like they got a lot better tonight and they had a lot of fun. They were focusing on the process instead of the result," Thompson said. "Instead of trying to hit the routine they were thinking about how to do the routine. If we can get to where we do that every meet every time they will have a great season."
The Nittany Lions jumped off to a quick lead posting the team's best vault score of the season with a 48.925. Briannah Tsang remained undefeated on vault as she took home her third straight vault title against the Fighting Illini.
"Bri's a special athlete. She had a lot of international experience before she came to Penn State," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "She was in the Canadian Olympic trials and she's competed in world cup events. She knows how to handle pressure."
In the second rotation for the Nittany Lions, Chanen Raygoza led the team on the uneven bars by putting up her best score of the season and tying for first place in the uneven bars for the meet with a 9.900.
"I was definitely just more confident in myself," Raygoza said. "I trained a lot in the gym this week and hit a lot of routines so I felt good about it."
Although it was her best score of the season and tied her career-best score, Coach Thompson thinks there is much more to come from the sophomore.
"Chanen did a great bar routine with a great stuck dismount. But Chanen will tell you that the bar routines she does in the gym every day are better than that," Thompson said. "She rushed a little bit and she was a little short on both handstands. It was a great routine and great score, but the more comfortable she gets, the more confidence she develops. She will be able to do in competition what she does in practice. Then she will score a 10."
The biggest improvement for Penn State came on the beam. For the first time this season, all six gymnasts hit their beam routines. Kiera Brown and Nicole Medvitz tied for third in beam each with a score of 9.850.
"We went to beam and I felt like we tensed up just a little bit," Thompson said. "They hit all six routines and put up a nice score. There was a big sigh of relief afterwards because of the first two home meets."
The Nittany Lions entered their final rotation ahead of the Fighting Illini 147.200-146.525. Sabrina Garcia started the floor exercise with a score of 9.700 followed by a 9.675 by Brown. Jessica Jones stepped onto the floor prepared to perform her routine from the first meet of the season.
"There was already a lot of pressure on the girls because we only had five gymnasts that could compete on floor tonight. Normally you compete six and you can drop a score," Thompson said. "When you have that mulligan it takes the pressure off of everyone knowing if I do mess up we don't have to count it."
Not having that mulligan hurt Penn State when, on her final pass, Jones' feet kicked out from under her causing her to fall. Briannah Tsang followed by tying her career high and set a season high score of 9.925 on the floor.
"[Tsang's] floor routine was beautiful," Thompson said. "So big exclamation point for her on the night."
The Nittany Lions posted their best score of the season with a 195.025.
"I think that we as a team have done really good. This meet especially, we have improved a lot and have gotten a lot more confident," Raygoza said. "We are going to just work on continuing doing what we are doing. Each week we are improving so we will just keeping going up from here."
UNIVERISTY PARK, Pa. - After the team's first away meet of the season was canceled this past weekend, the Nittany Lion women's gymnastics team shifts focus to its matchup against the Illinois on Friday in Penn State's third-straight home meet this season.
"Everyone was so looking forward to getting off campus, going to someone else's arena and competing," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "The experience in the bus, at the hotel, at the restaurant and in some locker room we've never been before, that's where a team really starts to come together. Then it got canceled and that was a big let down."
Penn State (0-2, 0-1 B1G) was looking to get away from the home crowd and pick up its first win of the season on the road. The Nittany Lions were hoping to escape some of the added pressure of performing in front of the home crowd in Maryland this past Sunday.
"When you compete at home, they might feel different than they would on the road. When you're on the road you don't know anybody. You go out there, you just let it all hang out and if something happens bad so what? Some other people saw you had a mistake," Thompson said. "But when you're at home, all these people from psychology class are here and this professor, parents and grandparents. They sometimes try harder."
Because of the cancellation, the Nittany Lions have not competed since their last meet against Nebraska, nearly two weeks ago. Thompson thought that this week may be a challenge, but he thinks the team is prepared from extra practice for the meet on Friday.
"We are trying to focus on the process of performing the routine and not the result," Thompson said. "When you try not to fall, generally you're going to fall because you're thinking about the wrong thing. You're thinking about the result."
A gymnast must practice in a meet-like setting in order to escape the comfort of the practice gym. The event that has put the most pressure on the Nittany Lions thus far has been the balance beam. Thompson wanted to come up with a way to add the same pressure that comes along with a meet when performing on the beam in practice.
Thompson set up an inner-squad scrimmage when the cancellation of the Maryland meet occurred and figured out a way to put some pressure on his gymnastics by telling them that six of seven gymnasts needed to hit their routines in order to have an off-day on Monday.
"Those kind of teaching moments are hard to create. Two of the freshmen fell, everyone else hit," Thompson said. "Everybody looked like they were doing 'meet beam' not 'in-the-gym beam', so it did have an effect and I think it moves them closer to being comfortable for when they compete."
The Nittany Lions have not practiced any differently preparing for their matchup against Illinois than they have for their other meets. Thompson believes that having the same mindset going into each meet, despite the opponent, is the key to success for a gymnast.
"Having a ritual that they do helps them learn how to get comfortable, so if you change it every week and its always different they might not ever get as comfortable as they would if you kept everything the same," Thompson said. "I mean some people might say I'm crazy for doing that."
Penn State looks to pick up its first win of the season this Friday. Just like he has all season, Thompson preached to his team all week to focus on only three things entering the meet.
"One thing is we are going to remind them to be where their feet are, number two is to focus on the process of the routine," Thompson said. "And third and final is to go out there and have fun."
The Penn State Nittany Lions will host the Illinois Fighting Illini at 7 p.m. on Friday in Rec Hall.
By Mandy Bell, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Three-year-old Mason Hosek was kicked out of her local dance class. As other kids were slowly getting into dance, Hosek was the rambunctious child that just wanted to do flips. Her dance teacher knew she did not belong in dance. Hosek was a gymnast.
At age six, Hosek's club coach Tami Jaso took her team to Auburn University for a gymnastics camp. Auburn's head coaches at the time, Jeff and Rachelle Thompson, watched the young Hosek gravitate toward the beam and always avoid the bars.
"She was the cutest thing ever," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said.
Assistant head coach Rachelle Thompson competed with club coach Jaso at Louisiana State University. Because of that bond, Jaso took her club team to the Thompsons' camps multiple years at both Auburn and Penn State allowing Hosek to create a strong bond with the couple.
In ninth grade, Hosek committed to the University of Oklahoma to continue her gymnastics career. As a result, all ties with the Thompsons had to be severed because she was no longer allowed talking to other collegiate coaches.
"At that time we weren't ready to pull the trigger on any ninth graders," Thompson said. "As she got closer to graduating her priorities changed."
As her collegiate career inched closer, Hosek decided to decommit from the University of Oklahoma. With Hosek back out on the market, Jaso knew she had to act quickly.
"My club coach called Rachelle and said, 'Hey Mason's open what do you think?'" Hosek said. "Rachelle called me that night and said 'we want you. Come please' and I was like, 'yeah, this is my dream school.'"
Hosek went on to become the national champion on both the balance beam and the floor exercise in her junior year of high school at the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics National Championships, however, during this time, she started to experience some discomfort in her back.
"I had two bulging discs in my back," Hosek said. "I was out for about a year, on and off, during my junior and senior year. That put me back a little bit."
Because of her injury, Hosek debated whether coming back to gymnastics was the right decision. But once Hosek received another phone call from Rachelle Thompson, she knew she needed to compete again.
"Rachelle talked to me and said 'you need to come back. It'll be good for you'," Hosek said. "And it has been. I haven't had any back problems since I've been here."
Hosek has made a quick impact for Penn State as she has performed in both of the first two meets of the 2016 season. She competes in the floor exercise, the vault and the balance beam for the Nittany Lions.
"College gymnastics is so completely different from club because, in club, if you fall it only hurts your score. Then they get to college and its 'oh my gosh, if I fall everybody's going to be mad at me,'" Jeff Thompson said. "There's a period where they try too hard, and I think Mason worked through that in preseason because she's done very well competing."
Hosek's favorite event is the beam. Ever since she was little, she realized the beam was something that came naturally to her even though most kids found it to be the hardest event. For Penn State, Hosek has the second highest score on beam so far this season with a 9.825.
"The season is young. We are not ranked as high as what we know we will be at the end," Jeff Thompson said. "But the opportunities are there for her to be in the lineup every weekend on three events, so she should strive to get as close to 30 as she can."
The Nittany Lions will travel to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
By Mandy Bell, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State women's gymnastics hosted its Big Ten opener against No. 9 Nebraska in front of a pink-out crowd Saturday afternoon in Rec Hall. Both teams sported pink leotards for the annual "Flip for the Cure" meet in support of breast cancer awareness.
Despite a 196.150-194.575 Nittany Lion setback, Penn State's Briannah Tsang had a standout performance as she tied Nebraska's Hollie Blanske for the all-around title.
"[Tsang] had an amazing night. That's just Bri. That's just what she does," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We don't expect anyone to be perfect, but she always gives her best. She gives 100 percent every time she goes."
Tsang improved her score on three of the four events from last week's season-opening meet against North Carolina State. She began her stellar night by scoring a 9.850 on the vault. With this score, Tsang won her second straight vault title this season.
"Bri's vault was unbelievable," Thompson said. "We talked earlier in the week that she just needed to calm down and focus on what she does in the gym. Starting on vault, sticking the vault and getting a good score."
Tsang improved from her score of 9.175 on bars last week to a solid 9.775 against the Cornhuskers. She and Mason Hosek led the Nittany Lions on the balance beam with a score of 9.825.
"I guess my mindset was to come in and have fun and do what I do in practice," Tsang said. "I obviously wanted to improve from last time because no one wants to fall."
Tsang closed out her night on the floor exercise, tying for second with a season-best 9.850 and improved her all-around score to a 39.300 from last week's 38.050 to take home the title of co-all-arounder for the meet.
"I was glad to see Bri redeem herself after falling on floor last week," Thompson said. "It is one of her best events."
For the team score, the Nittany Lions needed a near-perfect routine from each of its gymnasts in the final rotation to surpass the Cornhuskers. Entering the floor exercise, Penn State was down 146.800-145.750. Sabrina Garcia, Kiera Brown and Jessica Jones scored a 9.750, 9.825 and a 9.500, respectively. Before Oni Timothy took the floor, there were complications at the scores table.
"Unfortunately for Oni, the judges had a mix up with the judging slips," Thompson said. "One of the judges had their sheets in the wrong order. They thought Oni was Jess Jones and they thought Jess was Oni and the whole time Oni is standing there waiting to go, waiting to go, waiting to go."
Timothy waited for about five minutes for the judges to figure out their judging slips before she was finally able to start her routine. Her five-minute wait was like a football coach calling a timeout right before a kicker goes for a long kick, just trying to "ice" the performer. She started her performance strong before taking a slight stumble mid-way through.
"[Timothy's] full-in was awesome. It was the best I have ever seen her do it by herself. Then in her second pass she just wasn't very good," Thompson said. "We will work on that. But overall, I am super proud of how the kids stick."
Although Thompson believes Saturday's meet was a good meet for where the team is so far in the season, he believes that pressure is going to be something his young team needs to work on.
"We just need to work on getting more consistent under pressure," Thompson said. "We need to figure out a way, as coaches, to get them to feel the same amount of pressure in practice as they do in meets."
By 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.
By 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."
By 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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