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VIDEO: Meet the Team - Nicole Medvitz

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NIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics program will open their season on Sunday,Jan. 5 at Iowa State and the Blog will be counting down the days until the season opener with special Meet the Team videos with each of the 15 members of the team.

Today, we caught with Paramus N.J. native, Nicole Medvitz, who will look to contribute in the all around for the Nittany Lions. A freshman for the Blue and White, Medvitz was a Junior Olympic National Champion on the balance beam in 2011, 2012 and 2013.


Musser Preps for Trip to NCAA Championships

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By Kelsey Detweiler, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When you ask Sharaya Musser if she ever thought that, after four years of competing as a collegiate gymnast, she'd be ending her senior year with a third trip to the NCAA Championships, she's a bit speechless.

8844643.jpeg"I don't know," laughed Musser. "It's quite the experience."

The senior Nittany Lion leaves State College today en route to her final competition of her collegiate career. After tying for second place in the all-around at the Norman, Okla. Regional two weeks ago, Musser clinched her third-straight championship berth and is headed to Los Angeles, Calif. for three days of competition.

The women's gymnastics championships welcome 12 teams and 12 all-around competitors who are not a part of a qualifying team, as well as individual event finalists. As a team, the Nittany Lions fell just two spots short of a championship berth, finishing fourth at the regional competition.

And while the 22-year-old said that she would like nothing more than for her teammates to enjoy the sunny Los Angeles weather with her, she knows that they're rooting for her all the way.

"It's bittersweet," said Musser. "Obviously I'm proud of myself for qualifying but I really want my team to come with me so that's always a downside to it. But they've been coming into the gym and supporting me through my practices and that has meant a lot to me."

This is the third year in a row that Musser will be competing as an individual at the championships, as she earned 12th in the all-around in 2011 and eighth in 2012. But the senior said that as her final opportunities wind down, she's aiming for a much higher finish.

"The goal is to finish in the top three in the all-around," said Musser. "I've just got to go out there and do my best and do what I've been doing all season. You can't control judges and scores so if you know you did your best but you don't get the scores you think you deserve then you've just got to brush that off and let it go."

In order to do so, Musser said that she has to prepare a bit differently than she might for a mid-season meet or any other competition.

"I've been trying to rest my body as best as I can in order to compete," said Musser. "We're at the end of the season so you've done your routines over and over and over, day in and day out, so it's more of a mental game than it is a physical game once you hit nationals. These past two weeks I've just been doing a lot of visualization and just keeping up with the little things."

Musser's all-around competition will begin on with a semifinal on Friday and the top four individuals from that sessions will advance to compete in the finals on Sunday.

But regardless of what kind of scores or medals Musser brings home, she said that it's nice to look back at the last four years and know that she had fun doing what she really loves to do.   

"It's wonderful seeing all of my hard work paying off."

Women's Gymnastics Battles Beam with Mental Toughness

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By Sallie Sharer,, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -The women's gymnastics team fell to Michigan over the weekend, but head coach Jeff Thompson could not have been more pleased with the team's performance.

8597653.jpegThe team had conquered the mental toughness they had needed this season.

With a less than stellar performance on the balance beam two weeks ago at Nebraska, coach Thompson said the girls never wanted to feel the way they felt after that meet.

The week in practice leading up to the meet in Michigan was geared to rectifying those mistakes.

"I think it's a combination of several things. Maybe the most important thing is the way they felt at Nebraska when it was over. That is a very powerful motivator," Thompson said. "We started practices with beam intrasquad, and they had to hit to move on. They hit. They also had to end the practice with a beam intrasquad, they had to hit or they had to come back in on Wednesday, and they hit. So, not wanting to feel like that again helped them focus in practice. It helped build their confidence."

Their performances on the beam last week consisted of hitting all of their routines and posting their second highest score on the event.

"We knew we had this in us all along," Thompson said. "The girls set a goal before the meet started this weekend. Number one, to stay mentally tough, mentally focused until the very end, which we failed to do at Nebraska. We tried too hard, and ended up making mistakes on beam that we don't ordinarily make. The thing I'm most proud of is that they were able to do that."

Beam was the last event for the Lions at Michigan.

"They could have gone to beam and done what they did the week before, instead they just went over there and nailed everything, so that was awesome," Thompson said.

The second goal, Thompson said, was to go 24 for 24 routines.

"We went 23 for 24, and all exhibitions hit their routines so really we went 26 for 27. So, that was the real goal. The third goal was to score 196, because we felt like every meet we went to, had we done our job, we could have scored around a 196 or a little higher."

The Lions achieved all three of their goals, posting a score of 196.7, their highest score this season.

Headlining the performances of the night was senior co-captain Madison Merriam, who is still healing from an injury in the Lion's home opener this season. With two scores above 9.900, her work was paying off.

Merriam posted a 9.950 on vault, and 9.900 on the uneven bars, which was the event she had injured herself on in the home opener.

"I was really happy with my performance, I felt like all of my hard work was really paying off," Merriam said.

Getting the win was not the priority, Merriam said.

"We went into this meet trying to focus on ourselves, and hitting our routines. It was not about beating Michigan, it was about going out there and hitting our routines and we did that, and we got the scores," Merriam said.

Merriam performed on beam as an exhibition performance, and hit her routine with a 9.775. She was also thrilled at the Lions turn around on beam.

"This weekend they did a phenomenal job," Merriam said. "They were so confident up there, and they were a completely different team than they were at Nebraska. They went up there, and they owned it. I think they mentally prepared themselves better, and every single one of them knew they did not want to feel the way they felt after Nebraska."

The confidence from last week's meet has boosted the Lion's motivation going into the coming weeks of competition.

Co-Captain Madison Merriam Shows Perseverance Through Injury

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By Sallie Sharer, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When senior and co-captain of the women's gymnastics team, Madison Merriam, performed on the uneven bars in the season home opener in Rec Hall, a potentially serious injury had Merriam concerned that her foot was broken.

8553182.jpeg"When I first landed and got up, I was like 'that hurt,' and when I started walking it hit me, and it was pretty painful at the time," Merriam said.

In the middle of a swing down during her routine, she was over too far to the side and feared kicking the separators on the apparatus, and closed her straddle too narrowly smacking the top of her foot on the low bar.

Pushing through into the dismount, head coach Jeff Thompson and Merriam feared the worst.

After a few days, and a few medical tests, Merriam found that her foot was not in fact broken, but bruised.

"When I got over the shock of it, and over the pain, I realized I was going to be okay," Merriam said. "I'm not 100 percent yet; it's still a little bit swollen and bruised. It just depends on the day, but it's at the point now where I'm okay to push through it. It's nothing excruciatingly painful."

But after a week of practice, Merriam was ready to compete again.

In the very next meet after Merriam's injury, she competed on vault and uneven bars posting a 9.825 and 9.800 respectively.

"She did bars and vault that next weekend, and she ended up sticking her vault, which is unbelievable," Thompson said.

Last week's meet was another step for Merriam when she added floor exercise to her previous vault and uneven bars lineup. Merriam posted a 9.825 on vault, 9.800 on uneven bars and a 9.850 on floor.

In Merriam's final year as a Penn State gymnast, her qualities as a talented athlete and her selfless nature leant to her being chosen, alongside senior Sharaya Musser, as co-captains to lead the Lions through the 2013 season.

Initially, Musser and Merriam were told there would be no captains named this season. Thompson wanted to see them assume those roles. They did, and through their leadership in the preseason, the only two seniors on the team were both named co-captains.

"When it came along before the Blue and White showcase, they told us that Sharaya and I would be co-captains, we were both surprised," Merriam said. "We weren't expecting it all. I think we just showed a lot of attributes during the pre-season of being captains without the coaches putting that title on us, so I guess they thought we deserved it."

Both Musser and Merriam have shared the responsibilities of being captains, but it has not changed much for Merriam.

"Just because we have been given the title of captains, at least for me, I know that it hasn't changed my perspective of my role on the team. I still respect my teammates, help them when they need it, and try to shed light on them from my experiences from previous years."

Coach Thompson hinted that Merriam would potentially be ready to take on the all-around category this weekend at Nebraska.

Though Merriam is not yet fully recovered, she is adding more to practice every day.

When asked about her expectations for the season, Merriam made it clear that winning the championship was not the ultimate goal.

"I just hope for the team that we can reach our full potential. I want to enjoy myself and embrace my last season. I don't have any specific set goals. I just want to enjoy the process."

For Merriam, the ultimate goal is to make sure by seasons end, she is left with the feeling that she, and the rest of the Lions, left it all on the mats.

Women's Gymnastics Takes Down Ohio State in Double Dual

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By Sallie Sharer, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sporting its pink leotards in support of Breast Cancer Awareness, the Nittany Lion women's gymnastics team posted season high score of 195.575 in its double dual against Ohio State on Saturday night in Rec Hall.

8538147.jpegFor the Lions, survival was the theme of the entire meet, and they were proud to wear pink for the night.

"Women's gymnastics is a fashion show," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "They love the pink leotards, but they know what it means. We talked about what survivor meant tonight, and how hard those people fight every day. So we needed to come out and fight just as hard for them. Tonight was special."

Freshman Samantha Musto was healthy enough to compete in both the balance beam and the uneven bars. She posted a 9.700 and 9.600, respectively.

Thompson gave Musto the opportunity to prove that she earned the spot during the practice prior to the meet. She had to hit all of her routines on bar, right in that moment.

"It would only be fair if I hit every single routine," Musto said. "Hopefully to simulate how it would be in competition, and so I just tried to block it out and do what I had to do."

She did, and with clearance, Musto made lineup.

"She went up there and nailed it," Thompson said. "She did not only what we thought she could, but she proved to her teammates that she earned that spot. So it was good for everybody."

Senior co-captain, Sharaya Musser, the only Lion to compete in the all-around, dominated the all-around competition, winning the event with a score of 39.400.

Despite Ohio State's gymnasts earning the first place in every event but the balance beam, the Lions' depth afforded them the big win at home in Rec Hall.

Both junior Lindsay Musgrove and senior co-captain Madison Merriam posted season high scores on floor exercise with scores of 9.825 and 9.850 respectively, further improving the Lions performances on that event.

Musser won the unbalance beam event with a score of 9.925, matching her score from the week before against Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and Iowa where she posted her season high for the event.

"I think that sometimes they try harder when it's a dual meet," Thompson said. "They're smart enough to know everyone is watching them. When they are 3,000 people in the stands, and some want you to make it, some want you to fall. I think they handled it pretty well."

The Lions will head to Nebraska next weekend to take on the Huskers.

Musto Has Support From Team During Recovery

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By Sallie Sharer,, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The women's gymnastics team hopes to welcome back freshman Samantha Musto this weekend after a leg injury on floor exercise two weeks ago which left her leaving Rec Hall for x-rays at meets end.

8524362.jpegAfter misstepping in her floor routine in the quad meet against Minnesota, Kent State, and Towson, it was not until head coach Jeff Thompson saw the signs of pain as she continued her routine and called Musto off the floor, despite her attempt to push through her performance.

Her injury was essentially a bone bruising, and has been recovering well, she said.

Musto, who hails from Mays Landing, N.J., won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors two weeks consecutively at the beginning of the season, and has been a fundamental part of the lineup for the Lions this season.

She won the all-around competition on Jan. 12 at Illinois-Chicago, posting a score of 39.025.

Doing gymnastics at that caliber again soon is Musto's main focus, she said.

"It'll be hard to make lineups again," Musto said. "Everyone is improving. It's not going to be easy."

For Musto, her week of practice was much lighter than usual.

Easing herself back into normalcy in the gym, the young gymnast says she is motivated to get back to where she was before her injury.

When the rest of the Lions had off of practice on Wednesday, Musto was in the gym to practice. To her surprise, some of her teammates showed up to support her.

"My team is behind me 100 percent," Musto said. "I came in by myself yesterday and they all came in to support me in practice."

Head coach Jeff Thompson said some of the girls even put on their grips and swung bars while Musto was practicing.

"It really touched her that they showed up for her to support her," Thompson said.

Senior and co-captain Sharaya Musser said the team's actions spoke volumes.

"Just the fact that the whole team came in on our day off to watch Sammie really shows where this team is at," Musser said. "We all really love and support each other, and we don't just say it, we live it through our actions."

Musto is targeting to make the uneven bar lineup, but the balance beam is also still a possibility.

"I feel good," Musto said. "I'm slowly getting back into everything, adding a little more each day."

Despite her goals to compete this weekend, Thompson is more concerned with her being healthy.

"The great thing about our sport is you can lose every time you compete, and still win the national championship on the last day," Thompson said. "So, whether we beat Ohio State this weekend or not, its more important to me as a coach to have great routines and performances, and coming out healthy and more prepared for the next weekend. So if Sammie isn't ready to go, we're not going to throw her out there just to try and win."

Musto is hopeful she will perform on beam and bars this weekend against Ohio State in a double duel Saturday night in Rec Hall.

Nittany Lions Pull Out the Win In Quad Meet

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By Sallie Sharer Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The women's gymnastics team came in first place with a score of 195.500 in their quad meet against Pittsburgh, Rutgers and the Iowa on Saturday night at Rec Hall.

8515277.jpegThe Lions narrowly beat out Iowa, who came in second with a score of 195.325.

Coming off of two injuries the week before, Penn State had a lot to prove and there was plenty of motivation for the Lions Saturday night.

Despite the two injuries that cost Penn State the win last weekend in its home opener, the team collaborated and was able to post the scores they have been training for.

"They trained hard all week, and they knew they were going to be without Maddy (Merriam) and Sam (Musto), and they knew had to step up and had to hit," head coach Jeff Thompson said.

In their first rotation, the Lions were on vault where they posted consistent and high scores for the team giving them an early lead. Uneven bars followed suit, and it was not until a shaky beam performance where the competition caught up.

Stepping in for senior and co-captain Madison Merriam on beam last weekend, sophomore Krystal Welsh gave another solid performance after training all week.

"She was our top freshman last year, and she is used to the pressure of competition week in and week out," Thompson said. "She is coming back from the injury and the stronger she gets the stronger she will do for us. She stayed on and that's the main thing."

Merriam was able to compete this week on vault and the uneven bars despite her foot injury last week.

When freshman Samantha Musto was injured during her floor routine last weekend in Rec Hall, the floor exercise event would be crucial to ensuring Penn State's win and changing this weeks outcome for the team.

"When it came to floor, we knew the meet was really close," Thompson said. "We had to match Iowa score for score, and having struggled on floor last week, the confidence this week is what carried them through. They did everything the best they could do, and it was fun to watch."

With five hits on floor, senior and co-captain Sharaya Musser was the last to compete in the event for the night.

It was also Musser's birthday.

With a hit, and a score of 9.850 on floor, Musser sealed the all-around title for the night with an overall score of 39.525.

In her last season as a Nittany Lion, Musser was pleased to have celebrated her birthday with a win for Penn State.

"This is the first time the competition has fallen on my birthday," Musser said, "and it was a nice present to pull out the win, and it was a lot of fun."

It was also a special night for junior Sidney Sanabria-Robles who competed in the all-around on Saturday night 39.100 earning her the prestigious Anne Carr Award.

Stepping up to fill in the holes in the lineup was an important theme for the team this week.

"We have been practicing that in the gym," Sanabria-Robles said. "We have a thing where we say you can either grab onto the rope or hold the rope and that's just keeping going, it doesn't matter if you fall, the team has your back and we're going to do our job."

The collaboration paid off for the Lions, and left the team still full of energy by meets end.

"This is going to give us a lot of momentum," coach Thompson said, "and even if we didn't win the meet, the fact that we hit all of our floor routines, they would have been just as excited win or lose."

Nittany Lions Place Third at Home Opener

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By Sallie Sharer, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The women's gymnastics team placed third in its home opener quad meet with Towson, Minnesota, and Kent State in Rec Hall on Saturday night.

8492187.jpegPenn State started the meet strong with three terrific rotations, but a pair of injuries hindered the Lions' efforts in the latter rotation en route to a third-place finish.

After the first rotation, Penn State took the lead with a score of 48.800 after it's performance on vault.  Senior Sharaya Musser posted the highest score on vault for the Lions, receiving a 9.850.

Penn State was on the uneven bars for the second rotation. The Lions continued their efforts posting a team score of 48.925, narrowly staying ahead of Kent State.

Co-captain and senior Madison Merriam currently holds the highest individual score for the Lions on uneven bars, but hit her foot on the low bar at the end of her routine, resulting in a fall Saturday night on the event, earning a score of 8.500.

In Penn State's third rotation and the absence of Merriam in the lineup, sophomore Krystal Welsh stepped in and performed on beam earning a score of 9.725.

Welsh proved to be invaluable on Saturday night after coming off of an injury.

"It was awesome," Musser said. "For her to step up and perform on beam like she did was amazing. She's been training real well, but she hasn't had experience competing, and it's always a different feeling than practice, but she handled it well."

Musser was the last to perform the event in their second rotation and secured the lead for Penn State with a 9.800 along with junior Kassidy Stauder and freshman Samantha Musto.

If the message Penn State was sending by the third rotation wasn't clear, it certainly was after it dominated in beam. Stauder and Musser both posted 9.900 in the event lending to Penn State posting its highest balance beam score so far this season.

The competition did not trail to far behind, however. Going into the fourth and final rotation, Penn State boasted a 146.975. Kent State followed with a 146.425. With a small margin for error, Penn State went into the floor event in hopes of finishing the meet strong.

But an injury for Penn State stumped their last event.

Consecutive two-time winner of Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Musto landed hard part-way through her floor routine, and though she tried to work through it and finish, the pain was just too overpowering.

"When she thought she was landing, she wasn't at the ground yet. She hyper extended her knee a little bit," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "The way she was hurting, I don't think she is going to be back in the all-around next week, let's put it that way."

Thompson added that "it's going to be a wait and see," situation.

The two injuries were a variable the Lions had not yet had to work through, and it proved too much to overcome Saturday night.

"We're not strong enough depth wise, and we weren't mentally strong enough to handle that happening," Thompson said. "That's all about learning, and all about growing as a team, and I guarantee you they'll be tougher next week."

Penn State debuted its new arena set up which made effective use of the entire floor in Rec Hall. With a packed house, fans could get a good look at every event.

"I liked it," Musser said. "Obviously for me as a senior and having competed for three years with it the other way, it was definitely a change. It was a good change, that way the setup was new for the entire team, everyone competed today with it being new for the first time."

Penn State will return to Rec Hall on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. to take on the Iowa, Rutgers, and Pittsburgh in a quad meet.

Lions Host Home Opener This Weekend

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By Sallie Sharer, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion women's gymnastics team will enter its third week of competition in the 2013 season with their home-opener against Minnesota, Kent State, and Towson on Saturday in Rec Hall at 7p.m.

8484498.jpegLast week the Lions defeated the University of Illinois-Chicago on the road, having posted their highest score of the season with a 194.150.

Freshman Samantha Musto's performance last week earned her all-around champion in Chicago with a score of 39.025, securing her second week in a row of being awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Week.

With their home opening meet on Saturday, the Lions are looking to continue their success despite the several changes they are facing this season.

The Lions will be debuting a new arena setup that head coach Jeff Thompson describes as an 'amphitheater' setup in Rec Hall that will give attendees a better view of each of the four events.

"Nobody is going to have any experience with the setup this weekend," Thompson said. "It's a brand new configuration. We're changing the floor setup in order to help us better host Big Ten Championships next year, the NCAA championships, and regionals in 2014."

Another change the team is facing this season, Thompson said, is the team's approach to competition.

"We're using a little bit of a different approach this season," Thompson said. "Almost everyone has something new, and something more difficult on floor. We trained some pretty difficult tumbling and upgraded the difficulty of our routines in order to be in the hunt at the end."

With amped up routines and skills, the Lions are looking for Penn State to gain some consistency and more confidence this weekend.

Co-captains, Sharaya Musser and Madison Merriam, are the only two seniors on the team, and with seven new Lions, including an LSU transfer, Sidney Sanabria-Robles, the seniors will lead the team in the fight against Minnesota, Kent State, and Towson on Saturday.

Between Musser and Merriam, the co-captains hold the highest scores in all four events, with the highest score in all-around going to Musser.

Musser posted the second-highest all-around score after Musto last Friday against Chicago with a score of 38.600. Sanabria-Robles competed in the all-around competition for the first time in her collegiate gymnastics career last Friday and posted a 38.425.

Last year the Lions defeated Minnesota 195.475-195.150 on the road. The Lions did not compete against Towson or Kent State last season.

After the team improved their score from their first meet in Denver two weeks ago from 193.725 to 194.150 last weekend in Chicago, the Lions are looking to improve their score again at home in Rec Hall.

Musser Looks Ahead to Nationals with Focus and Determination

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By Laura Finley, Student Staff Writer
Sharaya Musser hopes the third time is the charm. After competing at nationals as an individual for each of the past two seasons, the junior gymnast heads to Duluth, Ga., to compete this weekend in the NCAA National Championships for a third time in her career.

After qualifying for the championships during regional finals with a score of 39.450, Musser looks to continue finding success on the big stage.


"Being at nationals two times already as an individual, I will definitely know how to prepare myself and what to expect," said Musser. "Going into practice with that mentality is nice. But because I don't have a team there it's a lot different. I have a different mindset competing individually."

During the regular season, Musser performed exceptionally, winning 10 of the 12 all-around titles and being recognized as the 2012 Big Ten Gymnast of the Year. To say she will not be a threat would be a mistake. Musser has a strong focus in the gym every day and she is determined now more than ever, to place within the top three in Georgia.

"As a freshman I was just going with it," said Musser. "I didn't know what to expect. I think the difference between then and now is the confidence that I have in myself and really believing that I can accomplish the goal that I have set. This year, my goal is to make it in the top three in all-around and just to enjoy it."

Musser is already off to a good start, as she will be rotating with the No. 1 team in the country, the Florida Gators. Although her own team will not be there cheering her on, Musser and head coach Jeff Thompson are confident in the support she will receive from the Florida gymnasts.

"We feel like she has a great draw," said Coach Thompson. "She's with the number one team in the nation. The caliber of gymnastics that she'll follow is as good as or better than what she does. The fact that she's following a really good team means that if they have a really good day and she has an excellent day, then the chances are better for her making the finals on certain events."

Competing in four events, Musser has plenty to work for. It is the vault, however, that she and Coach Thompson are practicing with most. With an average score of 9.887 during the season, vault has been Musser's best and most consistent event. And it is vault that is one of Florida's best events as well.

With this in mind, the game plan going into nationals is simple: practice the little details. Musser and Coach Thompson have the process figured out, learning from past mistakes and conferring with one another on strategy.

"Last year we tried to add some difficulty, but it backfired a little bit," said Coach Thompson. "Although she was able to hit them 9 out of 10 times in the gym, under the pressure of competition the national championship stage probably wasn't the best time to try that. Knowing that, the only thing we're working to do is work on vault. She's an outstanding vaulter and there's a good chance she'll qualify for vault event titles."

Musser will begin her rotation at nationals this Friday starting at vault and ending with the floor event. If she places in the top four in any of the events, she will then go on to compete Sunday in the individual-event competition.

Coach Thompson is confident Penn State will be well represented. Working with Musser over the past two years, he knows she has all of the attributes necessary to succeed in the sport.

"The thing that sets her apart from other gymnasts is that I've never seen her have a bad day," said Coach Thompson. "Even when she's struggling in the gym, she still finds a way to laugh about it or to find the silver lining. We expect her to do extremely well."


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