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Vaulting Past Michigan State, A Team Effort

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10764720.jpegBy Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The old saying goes, "practice makes perfect," and if you practice hard, performing in a game or a competition will be easier. While no performance is ever perfect, some come pretty close.

Gymnastics is a sport where the performance on individual can impact the team; it is just as much mental as it is physical. Penn State women's gymnastics head coach Jeff Thompson and his staff preach, "compete how you practice," and "perform like you do in the gym." This coaching tactic remained steadfast in Saturday's meet against Michigan State, as the Nittany Lions won each event and earned an impressive team score of 197.025.

"It was en exciting night; we finally did what we do in practice," Thompson said. "As a coach of a top collegiate team, you always want to score a 197 [team score]. We accomplished that and more tonight."

Vault: Sibson, Sanabria-Robles and Tsang Set Personal Bests
Penn State started its rotation on vault, a card they have drawn in almost every meet this year. What has changed as the season has progressed is their ability to attack this event, using that adrenaline and momentum for the rest of the meet.

"When you start a vault rotation off with one of the hardest, most challenging vaults in the NCAA, it is hard to gauge the judges reaction," Thompson said, speaking to freshman Oni Timothy's one and a half twist. "Tonight she didn't score as high as she normally does, but we put her first and the judges had nothing to compare it to."

Freshman Briannah Tsang and senior Sidney Sanabria-Robles were later in the lineup. The two gymnasts set personal bests with a matching score of 9.875, contributing to the team's overall event score of 49.175. But, sophomore Emma Sibson's vault stuck out the most. Not only did she stick it, she set a new season- best with her score of a 9.900.

"I have really focused on cleaning up my form," Sibson said. "I don't focus so much on sticking as I do my technique. I struggled the first few meets where I was ending with my chest too low. I have worked really hard over the past few weeks to get comfortable enough that I end on a solid note."

Welsh Recovers to Win Bars and Floor
For the first time in her collegiate career, senior Krystal Welsh missed her vault landing. But she finished with grace, knowing she needed to perform her best in the next three events.

"I obviously did not like what I did," Welsh said. "But, it is what it is. I will learn from it. It is always hard to let that feeling go during a meet, but I knew I had to. I know I will never do that again."

Despite starting off on an unfamiliar note, Welsh bounced back with a stellar performance. The all-around competitor walked away with a first place finish on bars with a score of 9.875 and tied for first on floor with a score of 9.900.

"From the moment we come to campus we learn to recover from a missed landing," Welsh said. "The team learns how to lean on each other and not let the performance of one person bring them down. We rally and we push through. It is all about trust."

Team Rallies For Fifth Highest Score in School History
The Nittany Lions not only managed to outscore their goal of 197 team points with a finish of 197.025, but their performance was one of the highest in school history. The team was able to recover from a missed landing on vault and still score above the 49 point mark in each event.

"It was fun for everyone," Thompson said. "This team is special."

Penn State takes on Big Ten rival Ohio State on Saturday in Rec Hall at 4 p.m. 

Nittany Lions Are Ready For Another Big Ten Matchup

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10754512.jpegBy Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After travel plans were upended due to continuous snowstorm over the Northeast, the Penn State women's gymnastics team finally made it to Illinois last weekend. Despite a stressful trip to Champaign, the Nittany Lions were ready to take on the fighting Illini in their Big Ten matchup.

For anyone following the meet, the team started off the day in normal fashion: breaking personal best records. However, this meet was different; Penn State was able to perform the break a 12-year-old school record on vault.

"Oni [Timothy] started on vault for us," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "She is able to stick one of the hardest vaults in NCAA competition. The five vaults following her were amazing. The girls stuck everything. This is the best vaulting performance I have seen as a coach."

The team finished with a nearly perfect vault score of 49.550.

"It was a tail of two teams that day," Thompson said. "We are still working on our lineup order and the most important position is who goes first."

Unfortunately, the adrenaline rush the team felt from their record-breaking vault performance did not transition well into the other events. Coach Thompson thinks the team was too excited, which, in a mentally challenging sport like gymnastics, can make or break you in competition.

"We gave Illinois the lead of floor," Thompson said. "Briannah [Tsang] went out of bounds on an easy pass because she just had so much adrenaline, the same happened to Lauren [Li]. Emma [Sibson] unfortunately fell. It just felt like we were off a little bit."

After beam and bars, the Nittany Lions were unable to bounce back, losing to the Illini by less than a point [196.400 to 195.600].

"We have made a few adjustments this week," Thompson said. "We told the girls all week that we just need to stay focused and take one thing at a time. We have changed up our lineups and we are moving the more consistent girls to the front."

Timothy's vault has "stuck" a first place send off in the Nittany Lion's lineup on vault. Alex Witt is going to lead off on bars. Nicole Medvitz will take over the first position on beam and Li is going to open for the team on floor.

"We made a few changes to Briannah [Tsang]'s floor routine," Thompson said. "Surprisingly, we have made it harder. She is so powerful that when we giver her an easy pass and she has a flush of adrenaline, she will over rotate and that is when things like going out of bounds happens and falling happen. So we are hoping that this new, challenging, pass will help her."

Penn State welcomes Michigan State this weekend and Coach Thompson hopes to see how the new lineups match up against another Big Ten foe.

"Michigan State is having a great year," coach Thompson said. They are ranked ahead of us on beam and floor. We have to bring our A game. We can't give them any opportunities. We beat ourselves out in Illinois. We just need to do what we do in the gym everyday." 

VIDEO: Beam - A Mental and Physical Challenge

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - If you were to place two boxes of toothpaste next to one another, they would measure about five inches wide. Now, imagine jumping into the air and landing on top of two toothpaste boxes, four feet off the ground; gymnasts do just that every day when they perform their beam routines.

The Penn State's women's gymnastics team has had a pretty successful run on balance beam so far this season. With a teammate falling in the first rotation almost every meet, the next five competitors have had to "stick" their landings.

"Beam is definitely a mentally challenging event," senior all-around competitor Krystal Welsh said. "If you focus too much on falling, you will probably fall."

Beam strategy changes for most of the gymnasts as they transition to collegiate gymnastics. In club gymnastics, you train yourself to not fall off the beam and you are conditioned to think that the quicker you do your routine, the better.

"I remember in club it was considered a 'good day' if you only fell once in a beam routine," sophomore Emma Sibson said. "Now, we train and focus a lot on the mental side of the event."

In practice, the Nittany Lions employ several mental exercises, transitioning them into competition. As the gymnast approaches the beam, she is taught to focus on a singular voice of one of her teammates, not the crowd or the other events performing at the same time.

"It is funny, we cheer the same way at practice as we do in the meets," Welsh said. "It really is a team effort, from start to finish."

This week, Penn State has moved up to No. 9 in the rankings as they head to No. 14 Illinois this weekend.

"For us to be able to approach beam in this way this early in the season will pay dividends for us later," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "They know how important the event is and they work really hard to help each other." 

Nittany Lion Freshmen 'Stick It' In Double Dual

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10722673.jpegBy Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - From the solid landings to the explosive execution, the Nittany Lion women's gymnastics freshman class delivered a stellar performance in Saturday's meet against Big Ten newcomer, Maryland. In the 196.55-194.45 win over the Terrapins, freshmen Briannah Tsang, Oni Timothy and Lauren Li put up big numbers in their respective events, shattering personal best records and setting new team records in the process.

"That was beautiful, wasn't it?" head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We have been waiting years for this class to finally get here. They are starting to figure it out."

So far this season, these gymnasts have been explosive, electric and surprising, constantly proving their worth and solidifying their spots in the Nittany Lions' rotations.

Li Delivers on Vault
The Plano, Texas, native was a solid opener for Penn State on vault; she opened the meet with a 9.875. It is never easy for anyone to open a meet or an event, but that pressure is even more daunting for a rookie. Li rose to the occasion and delivered an impressive performance. Not only did the freshman win the event and set a personal best, she set a new team record.

Li delivered on floor as well, tying three other Nittany Lions for fourth with a 9.80 finish, tying her personal best. The freshman led the team with the opening performance on beam, but came up just shy in her bid to stick a landing.

"Beam is one of the hardest events," Thompson said. "It is just as much mental as it is physical. Unfortunately, Lauren [Li] hasn't been able to do what we see her do in practice in the meets. She is solid on beam, but when she is out in front of the crowd she focuses more on not falling than performing. I talked to her right after she finished the routine and I asked her, 'Why do you thing we have you first?' We have more confidence in her than anyone else."

Timothy Shines On Floor
With every press off the mat and ever leap into the air, Timothy is explosive. There is so much power in her performance that you expect her to stick every landing. The New York native switched up her vault routine, landing an impressive turn for a rookie, earning her a 9.80, a personal best.

"We upgraded her vault this week," Thompson said. "She went from a full to a one and a half. She has been able to perform this fault before, but she has struggled with consistency. Today she nailed it and I think people saw just how confident Oni [Timothy] could be today. She was the second vault of the meet and she was able to stick such an impressive turn; I don't think the judges knew how to react to it."

Her floor routine was impressive, too. She stuck a double layout in her first pass of the routine, followed by two other combinations that were just as impressive, finishing with a personal best and fourth overall, while matching the team record.

"She did a really nice job on floor," Thompson said. "She even made a flub in her second pass but you wouldn't know it because of her confidence."

Tsang Is Pure Magic
There really are no words to describe this young gymnast. Her performance is effortless and truly beautiful. Tsang has been a firecracker in the all-around competition, shattering personal bests and team records with every tumble and leap.

Saturday's performance was special. Not only did she win the all-around title, she won floor and beam with near perfect scores. Tsang opened her floor routine with a complex pass combination that involved so many rotations you weren't sure how she could stay in the air that long. She finished with a 9.875, setting a team-high and new personal best.

"When you put her [Tsang] in the lineup on events that she is comfortable with, it is as easy and effortless as flicking a switch," Thompson said.

Her beam routine was one for the record books, too. Finishing with a stellar 9.950, the freshman set a new team high and personal best. Her all-around performance contributed to her 39.500 finish on the day, clinching the all-around title.

"Briannah [Tsang] is a different kind of gymnast," Thompson said. "She isn't your typical freshman. Before coming to us, she competed internationally for her country [Canada] and she has a gold medal from the World Cup. Gymnastics is something that comes to her. I don't know if there is anyone else in college who has a gold medal from the World Cup. It is truly magical to watch."

Additions to Coaching Roster 'Vault' Program to New Heights

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10711636.jpegBy Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At the end of each season, collegiate programs graduate seniors and look for recruits to fill open spots on the roster. It is almost second nature for coaches and teammates to have to adjust to new faces, techniques and strengths as a new season rolls around. Sometimes, these adjustments are not only made with new teammates, but with coaches as well. 

At the start of the 2014-'15 season, two new faces, techniques and strengths found their way to Happy Valley, where they would contribute to Penn State's women's gymnastics program. Kera Molinaro and Jeff Richards have begun their Penn State careers this season, bringing experience, charisma and unique approaches to the team.

"They have been great additions to our program already," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "Every day they surprise me and I am thankful to be able to work with them."

The Richards File
There isn't a division that Jeff Richards hasn't coached in. Over the past 25 years, Richards has been either an assistant or head coach at every level of collegiate gymnastics. From Iowa to George Washington and now Penn State, Richards brings unrivaled experience to the Nittany Lion program.

"It has been a really smooth transition," coach Jeff Thompson said. "Jeff [Richards] is a really likeable guy. It is nice because we have developed this kind of 'partner coaching' style, which is really helpful because we have such a small group this year."

Richards began his coaching portfolio at Utah State as a student-assistant from 1988-'90. While assisting the Aggies, Richards helped the program to the NCAA Regionals, along with an NCAA Championship all-around competitor. From Utah State, he made his way to University of Wisconsin-Stout and Winona University, where he served as head coach of the programs, respectively. Richards' transition to Big Ten gymnastics came in 2005 when he began his tenure as assistant coach at Iowa. While he was only apart of the Hawkeyes' program from 2005-'08, the impact he made was enough to earn him the 2008 North Central Region Assistant Co-Coach of the Year title.

"When you are coaching floor routines, it helps to have a coach spotting you who you feel comfortable with," Jeff Thompson said. "Jeff [Richards]'s build, as crazy as that sounds, allows for the girls to be more comfortable doing the extra turn or committing to a rotation. He has a lot of experience and is a big, strong guy, so he can step right in. They know that he is going to catch them. There is a trust level there that you can see already."

When Richards' tenure came to an end at Iowa, he made his way back to his stomping grounds at Utah State, where he coached until 2013. In his time at the helm of the Aggies' program, he sent five qualifiers to the NCAA Regionals and nine of his pupils earned All-Western Athletics Conference honors on 13 occasions. He has mastered the art of developing well-rounded student athletes, as 22 of his team members earned Academic All-WAC.

Richards' contributions to the team can be seen already, as last weekend's floor performance proves. In the match against Nebraska, the Nittany Lions had five floor routines open with an "E" level tumbling pass, compared to the Cornhuskers' one. Because the team has developed a comfort level with him, coupled with their already great relationship with head coach Jeff Thompson, they are able to maneuver through these hard routines early.

"I think that is something that will pay dividends for us later," Jeff Thompson said.

The Molinaro File
If you are wondering why the name Molinaro sounds familiar, it is because that name is familiar to the Penn State community. Frank Molinaro, Kera's husband, was a four-time All-American wrestler and National Champion (2012) for the Nittany Lions during the 2007-'12 seasons. When Frank decided to come back to his Happy Valley roots and help coach his alma mater, it was only fitting for Kera to tag along.

"Back in October I said to myself, 'Wow, I am so glad she is apart of our program,'" coach Rachelle Thompson said. "She is a volunteer assistant coach, which says a lot about her as a person. She does this because she loves it; you can see it. When you look at coaching as not a 'job' but a passion, you really see the impact you can have as a mentor by helping these young women improve day in and day out. I have already seen the impact she has made on this team."

Prior to making the move to Penn State as a volunteer assistant coach, Molinaro was an assistant women's gymnastics coach at Rutgers, where she helped the program secure its first NCAA Tournament birth since 2007. Kera's strength is taking floor routines to the next level, as she did for Rutgers during the 2013 and 2014 seasons when the Knights set school records.

"She really made an impact there," Rachelle Thompson said. "Kera has a great little spirit about her. Our coaching techniques compliment each other really well. She has a very laid back, yet aggressive coaching style that the girls really seem to be responding to."

Before assisting at Rutgers, Molinaro volunteered at her alma mater, Oregon State. Molinaro took over the Beaver's strength and conditioning program and helped shape their beam routines. During her time on the coaching staff, Oregon State finished eighth in 2010 and 2011, the program's first top-ten finish in 13 years.

Gymnastics is in her blood, as Molinaro began her collegiate gymnastics career as a walk-on for the Beavers; it only took her a year to earn scholarship standing. She not only made touches in every event, but she was a three-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection and earned NACGC Scholastic All-American honors.

"Being able to have someone who is qualified to be a full-time, Division I coach, volunteer their time with you has been an amazing experience," Jeff Thompson said.

Up Next
The Nittany Lions welcome the Maryland Terrapins to Rec Hall this weekend in the first and only double dual of the 2014-'15 season. Penn State's men's gymnastics team will host Michigan.  The double dual is Saturday at 4 p.m. 

Women's Gymnastics Set For First Big Ten Meet of the Season

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10699774.jpegBy Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson have always employed creative team building strategies into their coaching routine. From "words of the week" to "captains of the week," changing it up week and week out has proved to be a useful tactic for the Nittany Lions.

While it is understood that winning each meet is always the goal, this season the team has taken on a new approach to "sticking" the win week in and week out.

"I asked one of our freshman last week, 'Who are you competing against this weekend,'" coach Jeff Thompson said. "I was waiting for her to say Nebraska, but she surprised me; she said herself. Gymnastics is very much a team sport, but if our girls continue to get better, individually, each week, the sky is the limit."

Heading into Sunday's matchup against No. 8 Nebraska, Penn State women's gymnastics fans will see some changes in the line up. With several previously injured gymnasts making their way back into the rotation, the team is staring to come full circle.

"Each week is a learning experience for us as coaches," Thompson said. "If you think about it, last meet was our first chance to see how the girls handle pressure in a collegiate meet."

Adrenaline Advantage
As Coach Thompson said, while gymnastics is a "team sport," individual performances can make or break a meet. The biggest obstacle gymnasts have to overcome is channeling their adrenaline in the right places.

"The girls learn how to use their adrenaline or nerves to their advantage as they become more comfortable," Jeff Thompson said. "Coming from a local gym or their home gym into the collegiate competition is a transition that doesn't just happen over night. Gymnastics is very much a competition against the opposing team as it is against yourself."

Strong Freshman Class
Despite anticipated first meet jitters, the Nittany Lions' freshman class is already proving to be an asset to this "Big Ten Championship" hungry team. In the first week out, Briannah Tsang, not only clinched the all-around title with a pair of event titles but was named Big Ten Rookie of the Week.

"We knew she was going to be one of our strongest gymnasts when she came to us," Jeff Thompson said. "She was an incredibly successful gymnast in Canada, having won nationals on vault. We expect to see her become one of the top ten best in the country. What you see is what you get with her; her performance in the gym at practice is the same as her performance in the meet."

Looking Ahead
Seniors Krystal Welsh and Sidney Sanabria-Robles will be taking on a leadership role in the all-around competition. The two seasoned competitors will be paving the way for the young Nittany Lions, especially freshman all-arounders Tsang and Lauren Li.

"We made a couple changes in the lineup this week," Thompson said. "As we start out early in the season, we are still getting to know this team; what they are capable of competitively."

No. 15 Penn State takes on No. 8 Nebraska Sunday at 4 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

"This season is going to be a great one to watch," Thompson said. "We are excited to see what this team can do." 

VIDEO: #WGYMonday - Meet Briannah Tsang

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team is just nine weeks away from opening their 2015 campaign and each Monday we introduce you to a member of the squad. Our fourth #WGYMonday feature introduces freshman Briannah Tsang from Vancouver, British Columbia.

VIDEO: #WGYMonday - Meet Oni Timothy

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team is just 10 weeks away from opening their 2015 campaign and each Monday we introduce you to a member of the squad. Our third #WGYMonday feature introduces Oni Timothy from Rochester, N.Y.

VIDEO: #WGYMonday - Meet Chanen Raygoza

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team is just 11 weeks away from opening their 2015 campaign and each Monday we will introduce you to a member of the squad. The second in our #WGYMonday series introduces freshman Chanen Raygoza.

VIDEO: #WGYMonday - Meet Lauren Li

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team is just 12 weeks away from opening their 2015 campaign and each Monday we will introduce you to a member of the squad. Our #WGYMonday series will kick off with Lauren Li from Plano, Texas.


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