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For Medvitz, Gymnastics is a Ritual

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11791160.jpegBy Mandy Bell, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nicole Medvitz prepares for the next day's meet the same way she has since she was a Level 4 gymnast in elementary school.

She eats a bowl of pasta along with some M&Ms.

Before the meet, Medvitz meets her teammates at the Lion Shrine where the team does their own cheer and each kiss the lion before entering Rec Hall.  Once Medvitz is about to compete on the balance beam, she must kick the mat a certain way and looks at each end of the beam as she is saluting the judges right before she starts her routine. 

Medvitz has been a standout beam worker since she won three straight Junior Olympic National Championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  She claimed four of the last five beam titles this season and in her last appearance, stuck a 9.975. 

After Penn State had a fall on beam in the Big 5 Qualifier in Rec Hall on Saturday, Medvitz knew she had to have the perfect routine to conclude the rotation.  She completed what most would consider a perfect routine.  The first judge held up a perfect score, while the second judge gave Medvitz a 9.950, averaging to a 9.975.  

"When everyone started squealing when the one judge put up the ten, I hadn't really thought about how perfect the routine was," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said.  "It was just normal Nicole."

The balance beam is an event that most gymnasts look at as the most challenging, however it's rarely ever a problem for Medvitz.

"When you get up there, you just have to know you're going to hit your routines before you even do it," Medvitz said.  "I have been doing these skills for so long that it just kind of comes natural now. Before I go, I always believe I am going to do a great routine, so I always think I am going to do well."

Because of this confidence and her top-notch skills, Penn State knew that Medvitz would be the perfect fit for the anchor position in the beam lineup.  The anchor is the last person to compete on an event and the person that the team relies on most to stick their routine, especially if someone else has already fallen off the beam. 

"I know that we had talked to some of the other girls with Nicole about who would feel the most comfortable in the anchor position because some girls don't want that pressure and it was agreed upon that Nicole would be the anchor," Thompson said.  "If we asked, 'Who wants to be the anchor?' She'd put her hand up right away.  She's just that kind of beam worker."

Being the standout beam worker that she is, one would assume that Medvitz's favorite event would be the one that she succeeds most on, however that is wrong.

"Bars is actually my favorite even though the beam has always been my best event," Medvitz said. "The bars are my favorite because I love swinging around and I love the release moves because it feels like I am flying." 

In her freshman season at Penn State, her favorite event almost caused her to watch her freshman year from the sideline.  Medvitz tore her labrum in her shoulder during a bar routine that could have easily caused any other gymnast to miss most, if not all, of the remaining season.  Medvitz, however, would not have her freshman season taken away from her.

"I decided to push through it, I decided I wanted to compete that season," Medvitz said.  "I did bars and beam and I had to do limited numbers in the gym.  Right after the season I got surgery.  Last year was hard coming back from the surgery because I was not as strong.  I feel a lot better this year but it still feels a little bit different.  It's not holding me back at all now."

Nothing is holding Medvitz back on the beam, as she has not scored lower than a 9.875 since Feb. 13 against Ohio State. 

With the Big Ten Championships coming up on Saturday, some gymnasts may picture themselves sticking their routines on Friday night; others may listen to music to start focusing. Medvitz will be eating her pasta and M&Ms. 

Penn State will travel to Lincoln, Neb., at 5 p.m. on Saturday to compete in the Big Ten Championships.  

Life is a Balancing Act for Freshman Peyton Schuller

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By Mandy Bell, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - Peyton Schuller wakes up early on a Monday morning. She has to get to conditioning practice by 6 a.m., head to an 8 a.m. math class, followed by three hours of physics class.

After physics, Schuller heads straight to the White Building for gymnastics practice until 4:45 p.m. She quickly tries to grab a bite to eat after practice before starting hours of homework and squeezing in time to meet with tutors to help her get caught up on work.

This is the life of a student athlete majoring in biomedical engineering.

"It's definitely been difficult. More so than what they have been in the past because in high school, classes just came easy to me," Schuller said. "Here, I have to really work, so that's been a challenge to get used to, but I think I have learned to manage my schedule now so it's not as overwhelming, but it's still definitely difficult."

Most freshmen that plan to major in one of Penn State's most challenging majors worry about taking organic chemistry and upper-level calculus classes, but Schuller's wanted to take on more.

When Schuller received her Penn State acceptance letter, she was not yet on the Penn State gymnastics team. She had competed throughout high school, but had not been recruited by Penn State. Schuller's mother decided to email Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson to see if he would be interested in a walk-on gymnast.

"Typically, you can go to YouTube and you can find clips of kids," Thompson said. "So I went to YouTube and her videos weren't very flattering and the skill level on the videos wasn't really where the team was. So, I told her mom we were full."

Schuller's mother was not ready to back down. She asked Thompson if he would be at an upcoming regional competition and when he said that he would, she asked if he could keep an eye out for Peyton.

"We went and watched her and her personality came out in the live performance," Thompson said. "We said that this kid can help us on the floor and beam for sure even though she might never compete vault for us or train bars. We know she can make an impression on this team. And we've never been happier with a decision because she's amazing."

Schuller then officially committed to Penn State and began a hectic academic schedule of balancing classes, tutors, study hall hours and once-a-week advisor meetings on top of a rigorous gymnastics schedule.

Just when life couldn't seem to get more hectic, another variable was thrown into the equation.

Schuller experienced some discomfort in her knee over the fall season. When she returned to school after the holiday break, her knee swelled up and she decided to go to the doctor after a painful first meet. After they scoped her knee, they found a slight tear in her meniscus that had to be cleaned up immediately.

"I have never had surgery before, so I didn't know what to expect. I actually came back from it much faster than I thought I would," Schuller said. "It was really hard to be in the gym and not be able to do stuff. I mostly just did exercises to get motion back in my knee and had to strengthen my quad."

Schuller returned to the Penn State floor lineup seven weeks later in the quad meet against Alabama, Cornell and Denver. Since her return, she's posted a 9.725, 9.750 and 9.825 on the floor exercise.

Penn State will travel to Tempe, Arizona to take on Arizona State in a double dual meet at 9 p.m. on Friday.

Overcoming Adversity, Raygoza Returns To Vault

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By Mandy Bell, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - On Saturday, the Nittany Lions gained another gymnast in the vaulting lineup, Chanen Raygoza.  Only competing on vault once since her junior year in high school, Raygoza was ready to get back into the event's lineup.

"Well anytime you recruit someone for a certain role and it takes this long for them to fill that role, it's a great benefit for the team that she is finally able to do one of the events that was maybe the best thing that she did in high school," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said.  "She had an amazing vault." 

In Raygoza's junior year of high school, she experienced pain in her ankle that turned out to be bone spurs.  She had to have surgery to have them removed, but they came back again during her senior year.  She then had to have yet another surgery to clean everything up.

Raygoza has been injury-prone for as long as she can remember.  With gymnasts, injuries are extremely common, but for Raygoza, all of her injuries happened to the lower half of her body.  Because of this, she turned to the uneven bars to keep the pressure off of her bottom half.

"I have always loved bars and it is still my favorite event.  I got hurt a lot when I was young with a lot of ankle things and lower body issues," Raygoza said.  "I was always the one doing bars for hours and hours in the gym.  I just got to do it a lot, got better and better at it and it became the one I liked the most."

Some would think that the dismount from the bars would impact the ankle the same way that landing vault does, but it does not.

"For me, it's all about angles that I land.  When I land bars, it's more of like straight down, ankles 90 degrees at the most," Raygoza said.  "Whereas with vault, you have to kind of come in at an angle and your ankles bend a lot more with that.  My ankle doesn't really bend much more than 90 degrees so it makes it kind of hard."

The surface of the landing mat in vault is something that plays a factor to an injured ankle as well as the angle in which a gymnast must stick her landing.

"There's a big step from our training environment where the landing is a little bit softer. It's in the ground, so the top of it is level with the floor and you put your landing mats on top of it," Thompson said.  "It's a little more forgiving if you land short, you don't crunch your ankles as bad.  Going from the softer landing to a competition landing where it's just a mat on top of a basketball court, it's a more sudden stop." 

The California native was originally going to take her talents to University of Georgia, but decided to commit to Penn State during junior year of high school because she loved Penn State's coaches and the team felt like a big family.  However, deciding to come to the Northeast meant dealing with the winter for her first time.

"Last year was really hard for me," Raygoza said.  "I wore a lot of layers and I carried around a corn bag.  I would heat it up in the microwave and it was just like a big bag of hot.  This year has been better and it's been a lot warmer."

Other than the weather, Raygoza has had no issues with going to a school 2,500 miles away from her hometown in Upland, California.   

"There are kids that want to stay close to home and there are kids who don't care where they go as long as they get a great experience.  When she came here, she fell in love with it," Thompson said.  "You can tell if they come here and they are sitting on that couch and they got that look in their eye, this is the right place for them. Then you don't have any concerns no matter how far they are from home." 

Raygoza posted a 9.750 and a 9.800 in her first two times back on vault.  On Monday, she helped Penn State defeat Maryland by putting up a 9.825 on bars and a 9.800 on beam. 

"We knew that it would take her a little bit of time to get her back to the way she was," Thompson said.  "When you have the opportunity to get such a high-level student athlete, not someone that just excels in their sport, but also in the classroom, having to wait a little while for them to contribute fully is worth the wait."

Penn State Athletics THON 2016 Coverage

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IMG_9032.JPGUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Athletics was heavily involved with the 44th IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) held at the Bryce Jordan Center over the weekend.

THON's 708 dancers began standing at 6 p.m. on Friday and did not sit down or sleep until Sunday at 4 p.m. to raise awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer in the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Since 1977, THON has partnered with The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital with one goal in mind: conquering childhood cancer. To date, more than $136 million has been raised by THON. THON revealed a fundraising total of more than $9.7 million for 2016 with 96 percent of THON's all-time funds being donated directly to Four Diamonds. 

Each year, more than 15,000 Penn State student volunteers dedicate their time to THON, making it the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Members of Penn State's Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) were active participants in THON, and led run several fund-raising activities once again this year including sending solicitation letters to friends and family and a lip sync competition. In addition to generating financial support for THON, SAAB also provides emotional support to its THON children, Isabella Messina and Colton Buckley, and their families throughout the year.

Four Penn State student-athletes are represented SAAB as dancers in THON 2016: Liisi Vink-Lainas (Wynantskill, N.Y.) and Angela Widlacki (Naperville, Ill.) of women's soccer, Emily Rivers (Washington, D.C.) from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato (Burke, Va.) from football.

"This means the world to us. As athletes you are given a platform that a normal student might not have," said Zanellato. "It's one of those things that when you come in as a freshman, you know that you will have that platform for a few years. I wanted to make the most of it. I realized that THON was something special to me when I came to Penn State. I wanted to use my platform as best I could."

Additionally, Angela Connors and Jessica Spellman from the Lionettes squad and from Penn State cheerleading Kenny Fuhrman, Paige Gentry, Jordan Hinkle, Kylie Tobasco and Mike White danced in THON.

Within Penn State Athletics, strategic communications student assistants Emily Hesidence and Kate Brandell were also among the dancers at THON, as well.

Check out the extensive coverage from THON 2016 weekend.

Friday - 6 p.m. - THON 2016 Begins
The 46-hour dance marathon kicked off at 6 p.m. on Friday evening when the 708 dancers stood. They will remain on their feet until Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.


Saturday - 9:30 a.m. - Student-Athlete Interviews
With Bryce Jordan Center buzzing with energy during the 16th hour of THON 2016, spent some time with student-athletes and THON dancers Liisi Vink-Lainas  and Angela Widlacki of women's soccer, Emily Rivers, from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato from football. Representing Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), the group is thrilled to carry the Penn State Athletics banner as dancers in the 2016 THON. Take a look at some of their remarks from the floor at the BJC.

THON 2016_Blog 2.jpg
Saturday - 2 p.m. - Football Hosts THON Explorers Event
Approximately 40 members of the Nittany Lion football team welcomed approximately 30 THON Four Diamonds children and their families to a special event inside the Lasch Football Building on Saturday afternoon as part of the THON Explorers program.

The THON event in Lasch is circled on the calendar for the Nittany Lions every year. The THON families gathered inside the home of Penn State football to take photos, get autographs, participate in athletic stations, tour the facility with the Nittany Lions, eat ice cream from the Penn State Creamery and take a group photo.

The Nittany Lions formed a high-five tunnel for the families upon entry into the building before the student-athletes took the families around the football facility. Take a look at the THON Explorers event at the Lasch Football Complex on Saturday.

Football THON Explorers Event

Saturday - 6 p.m. - Student-Athletes Participate in Athlete Hour
Athletes from several teams on campus spent times with the THON Four Diamonds children inside the IM during athlete hour on Saturday.  Here are a few snapshots and video highlights from the event.

Athlete Hour Photo Gallery

Saturday - 11 p.m. - Football Wins Pep Rally Dance Competition
One of the THON highlights every year comes on Saturday night when the teams of Penn State Athletics hop on stage and compete in a dancing competition during the annual pep rally. In all, 12 different teams competed in the 2016 version of the dance-off.

The pep rally included a speech from former Nittany Lion football great Devon Still and his daughter Leah.

As for the dance competition, the football team claimed top honors in the men's side of the action, while the reigning national champion women's soccer team took top honors on the women's side. The two teams then battled in a dance off, with the football team earning the bragging rights as the 2016 THON Pep Rally dancing champion.

We have highlights of every team dancing on Saturday night at THON. 

THON 2016 Pep Rally Photo Gallery

9185732.jpegTHON 2016 Pep Rally Full Dances
Football (Men's & Overall Champion) 
Women's Soccer (Women's Champion)
Men's Fencing
Men's Golf
Men's Gymnastics
Men's Hockey
Men's Rugby
Men's Soccer
Men's Tennis
Men's Volleyball
Field Hockey
Women's Golf
Women's Gymnastics
Women's Hockey
Women's Rugby
Women's Volleyball

Sunday - 11:30 a.m. - VIDEO: Coach Franklin Addresses THON 2016
Head coach James Franklin took the stage of THON 2016 on Sunday morning to urge the dancers on in the final hours of the 46-hour dance marathon.  Franklin's message epitomized what THON's mission has been since it started in 1977.

"This is special. What you guys do is what Penn State is ultimately all about," said Coach Franklin.

Take a look at his full remarks.

James Franklin at THON 2016 Photo Gallery

4:14 p.m. - THON 2016 Raises $9.7 Million
For the second-straight year, THON's fundraising efforts raised more than $9.7 million. The grand total for THON in 2016 was  $9,770,332.32 for fight against pediatric cancer.  Congratulations to everyone involved in THON 2016.  Here is a look at the reveal from Rec Hall prior to Penn State wrestling's bout against Oklahoma State. The Nittany Lion faithful in Rec Hall let out a big cheer as the total was unveiled.


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @

Lions Ready To Get Back On The Road

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11713376.jpegBy Mandy Bell, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - The Nittany Lions placed third in a quad meet against No. 4 Alabama, No. 13 Denver and Cornell at Rec Hall Saturday afternoon.

Alabama took home the victory scoring 197.300 followed by a Denver score of 196.350. The Nittany Lions totaled 195.100 and Cornell placed fourth with a 191.000.

Penn State got off to a solid start on vault, posting a 48.950. Briannah Tsang led the Nittany Lions with a 9.850 followed by a 9.825 by Kiera Brown. New to the Penn State vault lineup for this season, Chanen Raygoza posted a 9.750.

"We are excited we had Chanen Raygoza in the vault lineup this week because she's such a great vaulter. She had a couple ankle surgeries in high school. It's just now in her sophomore year where she can land on a matt and it not hurt," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We warmed her up last week but she just wasn't ready. So for her to go this week and have a great vault, it's great for us. It's going to help us down the road."

The Nittany Lions matched their vault score in the second rotation on the uneven bars. After an uncharacteristic fall by Raygoza, Sabrina Garcia clutched a 9.850 performance followed by a stellar 9.875 by Brown.

"We went to bars and our first two bar routines didn't do what they do in the gym," Thompson said. "I really felt like Sabrina Garcia with hitting her routine like she does in practice and sticking her dismount really got us back on track."

Mason Hosek, fresh off of a 9.900 balance beam routine last weekend against Ohio State, led the Nittany Lions with a slight stumble on the beam during her leap series. The Nittany Lions bounced back after the early fall to post a total score of 48.850.

"When I talked to Mason afterwards, she was like 'Yeah, I did my leaps and then I was on the ground, I don't know what happened.' That's a focus issue," Thompson said. "But it felt like they fought really hard on beam and for them to not fall after Mason led off with a fall, it shows a lot of heart and shows they are really growing up fast."

The Nittany Lions' beam anchor, Nicole Medvitz, nailed a 9.900 on her routine and took home the beam title. Brown also tallied a 9.850.

"It's a privilege to be the anchor and it's nice to know that all my team is confident in me and I was able to do well," Medvitz said. "We've been working really hard in the gym so my routines have been really consistent and I've been sticking a lot of dismounts in the gym so that gave me confidence and I just went out there and did what I always do every day."

Two early falls in the fourth rotation on the floor exercise made it challenging for the Nittany Lions to bounce back. Brown and Oni Timothy solidified 9.850s.

"The mistakes on floor, I have no words to explain what happened," Thompson said. "Again, when you fall on the very last thing you do in your routine, it looks like a lack of focus. I think it's the 'Yeah I made it! Oh wait, no I didn't, oops.'"

Despite a third place finish, Penn State's Brown achieved a career-best all-around score of 39.400.

"There's no different mindset with a quad meet. I think I enjoy it better because it moves faster. Sort of feels like having guys here for a dual meet," Brown said. "I think I felt better on floor today, I was much more confident because I have been really working hard in the gym."

With her score, Brown secured third place in the all-around category in Saturday's meet.

"We knew when she came here that she could be a great all-arounder. After the meet was over I asked her, 'Did you know you were going to have a great night?' and she said 'Yeah'. And when you know you're going to hit your routines, then gymnastics is fun," Thompson said. "I'm excited for her and her leading by example is going to help the younger girls get to that point."

The Nittany Lions will travel to College Park to take on Maryland at 7 p.m. on Monday.

"We only have one more home meet. We struggled at home in all four home meets and we've been doing great on the road," Thompson said. "So we have three road meets coming up, a chance for us to get some great performances in, get some really good scores and move up in the rankings."

VIDEO: THON 2016 Pep Rally - Women's Gymnastics

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Women's Gymnastics' Little Nittany Lion

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Sydney with Team.jpg

By Mandy Bell, 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.

Emma Sibson Leads Nittany Lions To Victory In Season Debut

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11683757.jpegBy Mandy Bell, 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.

Tsang's Confidence And Experience Provides Anchor For Nittany Lions

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11662724.jpegBy Mandy Bell, 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. 

Nittany Lions Fall Just Short To No. 17 Illinois

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11653025.jpegBy Mandy Bell, Student Staff Writer
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." 


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