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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.

Barbour Eager to Lead Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 18th of August cannot come soon enough for Sandy Barbour.

Introduced as Penn State Director of Athletics on Saturday afternoon, Barbour is thrilled to begin her tenure as the leader of an athletic program that aspires to continue its long history of excellence on and off the field of play.

"When you spend a professional lifetime serving institutions and most importantly students, you dream about coming to a place like Penn State," Barbour said. "You dream about the opportunity to lead a program like Penn State athletics. Why? Because it represents the opportunity to have it all: Athletic excellence, academic achievement, community engagement and fiscal responsibility. So thank you, Eric [Barron]. I am absolutely thrilled, over the top excited about this opportunity and about being the athletic director at Penn State."

A graduate of Wake Forest where she was field hockey team captain, Barbour grew up on the East Coast and has always had a deep passion for Penn State University and its athletic department. That's what drew her to the position when she originally spoke with President Barron about the opportunity.

Immediately, Barbour felt a connection with the people, pride and remarkable accomplishments of Penn State University and its athletic department.

"I love the 'We Are Penn State.' I particularly love what it stands for. It stands for family," Barbour said.

Barbour desires to see national titles in all 31 sports on campus. But first and foremost, she will strive to lead a department with student-athletes who are elite performers in the classroom.

"We are athletic programs again that are all part of a university," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes will be students first, Penn State is incredibly proud of the academic performance of their students and we will continue to be."

Eager to hit the ground running when she begins her duties as athletic director in 23 days, Barbour wants to learn from everyone in the department, especially the head coaches leading Penn State's 31 athletic teams.

"Unity doesn't mean one opinion, and I actually embrace that, embrace the diversity of opinion, diversity in a variety of different ways, and I actually think that will make us stronger in our ability to move forward," Barbour said. "As I said before, I have something to learn from everybody, and I'll be doing a lot of listening."

Numerous head coaches were in attendance at Saturday's introductory press conference. The coaches and athletic department staff then had a chance to mingle with Barbour at a private reception before she boarded a flight to Chicago for Big Ten meetings. The head coaches in attendance exuded great confidence in the future direction of the athletic department.

"There is a culture, history and tradition of tremendous academic achievement at Penn State and that will continue," said head football coach James Franklin. "I know it's important to our president, athletic director and all of our coaches. That will continue. I know we'll spend as much time as we need to so we can start building."

"I am truly thrilled that Sandy Barbour will serve as the next athletic director for Penn State," Lady Lions head coach Coquese Washington said. "Sandy is a strong, dynamic and passionate leader. She is also an incredibly smart visionary and strategic thinker. It is exciting to imagine all the ways Penn State University, and Penn State athletics in particular, will be positively impacted by her leadership."

"I loved everything I heard today," head women's hockey coach Josh Brandwene said. "She has passion, vision and just a great understanding of the Penn State community. Both as a head coach and as an alumnus, I am really excited to start working with her."

Barbour will return to California in the coming days to prepare for her full-time return to Happy Valley on Aug. 18, and the new leader of Penn State Athletics is fired up to get started.

"We are Penn State. I'm all in. I'm ready to get going," said Barbour.


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Women's Gymnastics NCAA Practice Session

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team took part in their practice session at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Thursday, April 17. Head coach Jeff Thompson and freshman Emma Sibson talked to following the team's tune-up.




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