By 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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.