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.