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Floor Routines Send Lions to Birmingham with Confidence

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By Gabrielle Richards, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At the center of most gymnastics arenas and practice facilities lies a blue, chalk dusted, white-tape-outlined, square area. In the 39-foot by 39-foot space, gymnasts combine tumbling, dance, and stunts, while doing their best not to land, leap, or "stick it" out of bounds. For the Penn State women's gymnastics team, this complex event secured its trip to the NCAA Championships.

Gymnastics, a sport that was once dominated by men, didn't officially become an Olympic sport until 1924. Women were not allowed to compete in Olympic gymnastics until 1928, where they were allowed to compete in only one event. Floor performance was one of the last rotations added to the Olympic slate of gymnastics events; women weren't allowed to compete in floor routines until 1948.

Floor performance is the primary event where gymnasts are given a canvas for artistic expression, a canvas that coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson allow their gymnast to paint themselves.

"When we came to Penn State, we decided to take a backseat to the choreographing of floor routines," Rachelle said. "We allow our girls to have the most input in this event."

The Nittany Lions' first regular season meet of the 2013-'14 season was at Iowa State, where the team scored 48.600 on floor. Over the course of the next few meets, Penn State was improving dramatically in their overall floor scores.

"We didn't expect floor to become our best event," Rachelle said. "This has always been an event that is unpredictable at the start of the season. Last year we were really weak on floor, but this year, we planned ahead and got the girls ready to compete on floor early."

The coaching philosophies of the Thompsons are unique; their primary focus is building a community within their team. At the beginning of each season they break the team up into event-based teams - floor, bar, beam and vault.

"This system allows for the girls to help each other," Rachelle said. "The floor team developed sooner than any other team. I would have never guessed in October that floor would be our strongest event, but it is.

There wasn't a meet all season that the Nittany Lions didn't improve on floor. Their consistency and improvement on floor shined in the Feb. 15 meet against No.15 Illinois. Penn State, who was ranked No. 21 at the time, was not favored to win this meet. But, heading into the final rotation of the competition, the Nittany Lions were tied with the Illini. The Thompsons and their gymnasts left Rec Hall that day with a "W" and their highest floor score of the season, 49.375.

Their fate at the NCAA Regional Championships wasn't much different; their qualification to the NCAA Championships rested on their ability to "stick" a near perfect floor rotation. And they did.

"That was a roller coaster of emotions," Rachelle said. "As a coach, I refused to look at the score board. I wanted to stay in the moment and I wanted the girls to stay in the moment. I know floor is our best event, but anything could happen."

The Nittany Lions finished their floor rotation with a score of 49.425 and secured their slot at the NCAA Championships.

"I am excited to see how we match up to the other schools of floor," senior Lindsay Musgrove said. "At this meet [NCAA Championships] we start off the competition on floor. I am hoping that that will get us on a good roll."

The Penn State women's gymnastics team was "Birmingham Bound" Tuesday night, where the team will begin competition on Friday. This is the first time since 2009 that the team earned a spot at the NCAA Championships.

"Our message all year has been 'Just be us,'" Rachelle said. "When we didn't advance last year, we asked the girls to buy into our new system and they committed to it. We tell them all the time to stay present and if we can do that in Alabama, the Super Six is in our reach. What we have accomplished this season has raised the bar for Penn State gymnastics. This is what we do at Penn State."  

Coming Full Circle in Alabama

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By Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As freshmen in 2011, Penn State gymnasts Lindsay Musgrove and Kassidy Stauder competed in their first collegiate gymnastics competition in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Three years later, the two will return to the southern state this weekend to compete in the NCAA Championships and their final meet as Penn State gymnasts.

Appropriately, this week's Word of the Week is "Full Circle", which attributes the seniors' journey starting and ending in Alabama.

The NCAA championship meet is the meet of all meets for collegiate gymnastics teams. This meet is unlike any other. Musgrove is looking forward to the championship atmosphere most.

"It's a completely different atmosphere. Thousands of people in the stands, crazy lights, glow sticks and you get to compete on podium, which is a big stage in front of the crowd" Musgrove said.

The second Word of the Week is "Us". The team is focusing on being themselves and competing how they practice everyday.

"We are coming in [to practice] and knocking out routines every day, so we just need to transfer that to the meet just like we did at Regionals and have our best meet," Musgrove said. "We've [also] been focusing on not looking at teams like Florida and Alabama and trying to be like them or be 'as good as them'. Who we are at Penn State is good enough to run with those guys."

The Nittany Lions saw No. 1 Florida compete at Regionals just two weeks ago and know that they can put up a fight against the Gators.

"Going into [Regionals] we knew they were ranked No. 1 and at the end of the meet, finishing just three-tenths behind them just shows how good we are. We have just as good of a chance as any other team to make it to Super Six," junior Randi Lau said.

Making it to Super Six means being a top six team on the first day of the competition and competing in the second day of the event. The Nittany Lions have never made it to the Super Six.

Penn State will start the competition this weekend on floor. Musgrove is looking forward to this event most.

"We're ranked the ninth in the nation on floor. Ending on floor at regionals, every single person hitting their routines, was so awesome," Musgrove said. "At this meet, we get to start on floor, so hopefully that will get us on a good roll to finish out the whole meet."

This weekend, No. 15 Penn State will compete in the evening session on Friday with No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Utah, No. 8 UCLA and No. 9 Nebraska. The Nittany Lions will begin with a bye, then proceed to the floor exercise, followed by vault, another bye, uneven bars and finish with balance beam.

The Big Ten has four teams competing this weekend (Penn State, Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan). The Big Ten and the SEC have the most teams competing in the 2014 Championships (Florida, Alabama, LSU, Georgia).

As this season comes to an end, the team is beginning to reflect on the past season. At the end of the 2012-'13 season, coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson devised a new plan for the team. The values and fundamentals of the team were going to change for the upcoming season. The gymnasts had to sign on to this new program, without knowing what was to come. Lau, who transferred last year from LSU, said she had to buy in to the Thompson's program, but it really paid off.

"The Thompsons really care about you on a personal level. I believe in their program and what they think. Their coaching styles are so encouraging," Lau said. "I trusted them as coaches to know that their program would work and it did. Here we are on the road to nationals."

The Blue and White's mission for the their first-ever trip to the Super Six begins on Friday at 8 pm.

"This opportunity is so amazing and we made it all happen ourselves," Lau said. 

Nittany Lions Punch Their Ticket to the NCAA Championships

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By Gabrielle Richards, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a superb performance at the NCAA Regional Championships on Saturday in Rec Hall, the Nittany Lion women's gymnastics team is headed to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2009.

"Well, if you were in the building you know how exciting that was," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We had the right rotation tonight."

Florida, Oregon State, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire and Penn State were the teams competing in the overall team competition, with gymnasts from Brown, Cornell, Pittsburgh and the Bridgeport competing as individuals.

The NCAA gymnastics championships are very different from March Madness. According to NCAA rules, the top two performing teams and the top two all-around competitors (who are not from an advancing team) from each regional site receive automatic birth to the NCAA Championships.

After six rotations, Florida and Penn State secured those top positions with scores of 197.050 and 196.725, respectively.

"This is something that we have been working for since the day that I walked onto campus," senior Kassidy Stauder said. "We've been so close the last three years and to finally qualify in Rec Hall is the best feeling ever. It really showed the hard work that this team has put in since preseason started. It shows how close we have become as a team throughout this year and how much trust we have in one another."

The Nittany Lions started off their first rotation on vaults, where freshman Emma Sibson and junior Sydney Sanabria-Robles earned scores of 9.90. Also competing for Penn State on vault were Stauder, Randi Lau, Krystal Welsh and Lindsay Musgrove. The team finished with an overall vault score of 49.300.

"I think we all knew what we had to hit [tonight]," Sanabria-Robles said. "We had that focus and excitement in us. We knew we could do it and we just went out there and did what [our coaches] have been telling us all along: just be us and have fun."

Stauder led the team with a score of 9.875 on bars, with junior Alex Witt and Sanabria-Robles who contributed scores of 9.850 and 9.800. Also competing for Penn State on bars were Welsh, Nicole Medvitz and Samantha Musto. The team finished with an overall bars score of 49.050.

Penn State was then slated to compete on beam, which coach Thompson believed was the team's "shaky" event.

"Beam scores were a little tight and they stayed tight all night," Thompson said.

Lau and Sibson were the top beam performers for the Nittany Lions with scores of 9.800 and 9.825. The team finished their beam rotation with a total score of 48.950.

Penn State received a bye-rotation after their beam performance, giving coach Thompson ample time for a locker room pep talk.

"When I walked into the locker room [during our bye in the fifth rotation], I said to the girls 'Do you want to know the score?'" Thompson said.  "And they said 'Yes, I mean we are going to see it anyways.' I told them we were down by one-tenth of a point. We knew Oregon State was going into their best event; they are ranked eighth in the country on balance beam. We also knew we were going into our best event ranked ninth on the floor exercise."

The Nittany Lions shined in their floor rotation. Sanabria-Robles, Lau and Musgrove each earned scores of 9.90, with Sibson, Welsh and Stauder earning scores of 9.850 or above. The team earned the highest floor score of the regional tournament with a 49.425, securing the birth to the NCAA Championships.

"There is no other way I would rather to leave Rec Hall than to qualify to the NCAA Championships with my team," Stauder said. "It was an incredible way to go out."

"After the season ended last year, we had a meeting and the coaches talked to us about some changes that we were going happen; a culture change and other adjustments that we were going to make," Sanabria-Robles said. "We made the commitment and now we are headed to nationals. Obviously it worked."

The Nittany Lions will make their way to the NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala., on April 18-20. For the first time in five years, Penn State will be competing as a full team.

"We have a lot of fun," Thompson said. "We accomplished our goal. Now we have a new goal, the Super Six."

Women's Gymnastics Keys to NCAA Regionals

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By Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - During each week this past November, the Penn State women's gymnastics coaches, Jeff and Rachelle Thompson, gave the team a letter. With this letter, the team would pick a motivating word that began with that letter. Then, during each week this season, the word they chose in November would resurface as, "The Word of The Week." 

This week, the team has two words leading up to the NCAA Regional Championships this weekend - 'Wow' and 'Inspire'.

"If we do well and finish first or second, then, 'Wow. We made it to Nationals.' But we're going to have to have inspired performances in order to do that," Jeff Thompson said.

Senior Kassidy Stauder said that these two words are important because she wants to go to Regionals and "wow" everyone and make it to Nationals. If the team places first or second this weekend, they will advance to the NCAA National Championships for the first time as a team since 2009.

"We need to go in there and inspire one another and also inspire the upcoming teams to make a new tradition of making it to Nationals every year," Stauder said.

The team decided to combine the two words of the week to make an acronym. They took the first letter in 'wow' and the first two letters in 'inspire' to create 'WIN' - What's Important Now.

"This means just focusing on staying in moment. And what's important to us is hitting our routines and doing our best to progress on to the next meet," senior Lindsay Musgrove said.

Some of the gymnasts competing in NCAA Regionals found their "keys" to being successful in the meet this weekend:

Kassidy Stauder: Confidence

"Go in there with confidence and having fun. Remember that our best is good enough and do what we do everyday."

Sidney Sanabria-Robles: Compete as if it were warm ups

"Stay calm and do everything as if it was warm up. In warm up, I'm not thinking about anything, and it actually turns out really good. Just stay relax and think 'warm up'."

Randi Lau: Focus

"We have to focus on the details and sticking our landings, because we are a Top 12 team and we're really capable of making it to Nationals. We just have to stay focused and finish really [well] on floor."

Krystal Welsh: Having fun

"Just have fun and do exactly what we do in practice."

Coach Jeff Thompson: Hitting routines

"The most important thing for everyone is to hit routines. If everyone hits, then it's going to come down to stuck landings."

Lindsay Musgrove:  Compete freely

"We've put in all of the preparation up until now, so we don't need to stress or worry. I think just have fun and compete freely and just let ourselves do our gymnastics because we all know how to great routines.  We hit them in the gym everyday."

In the NCAA Regional Championships this weekend, No. 15 Penn State will take on No. 1 Florida, No. 12 Oregon State, No. 23 New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Maryland. Penn State is the No. 3 seed.

Catch the Nittany Lions at home in Rec Hall for the last time this season on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Women's Gymnastics Big Ten Roundup - We Are... Us

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By Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was an electric atmosphere in Rec Hall on Saturday, as it housed the 2014 Big Ten Women's Gymnastics Championships. Fans from many of the Big Ten schools filled the gymnasium, cheering for their teams and sporting their team's colors, in hopes of a Big Ten Championship title.

The seventh-ranked Michigan Wolverines were declared the 2014 Big Ten Champions, scoring a 197.550. The Nittany Lions finished fifth with a score of 196.475.

Hosting the championship event at home provided an advantage for the Nittany Lions, having their fans behind them. But the Lions also fed off of the energy of the opposing teams' fans.

"At every championship meet, it's crazy loud," senior Kassidy Stauder said. "It's really great to feel that energy coming off of our fans, but also the energy coming off of all of the other teams. Even though they might be routing for Michigan or Nebraska, they are all routing for gymnastics."

The gymnasts themselves were just as energetic from start to finish. No. 15 Penn State began on the floor exercise and the team's energy busted through the navy blue barriers that the teams stood behind for each event. 

The floor exercise was the Nittany Lions' highest score of the day, recording a team total of 49.425. Head coach Jeff Thompson expressed how impressed he was with each gymnast's performance.

"We got off to a great start. Emma [Sibson]'s floor routine was outstanding. She had very difficult tumbling and she nailed all of it. Krystal's tumbling was very difficult, she nailed all of it," Thompson said. "They got on a roll and they built off of each other."

Stauder prepared for her floor routine with a pep talk from assistant coach Rachelle Thompson.

"Rachelle always runs us through our entire routine from the dance, to the first tumbling pass, to what we're going to do; just a little reminder before you do your routine. And she knows all of our routines so well," Stauder said.

Stauder scored a 9.875 on the floor exercise on Saturday, 0.125 points higher than her previous routine in the meet at Michigan on March 15.

"At the Michigan quad meet, I went a tad bit crooked on my last pass, so I was definitely working on that this week, so I didn't get the deduction on being right in the corner," Stauder said. "I just felt more confident on my floor routine this week. I was really working on that in gym, fixing little things so that I could feel that confidence today."

Stauder earned All-Conference Team honors and tied for both second place on the uneven bars and fifth place overall with a score of 39.425.  

"It's more about the team for me and I've always gone out there for the team, but it's cool my senior year, letting all my hard work show off to our fans," Stauder said.

In preparation for the Big Ten championship meet, Jeff Thompson focused on telling the gymnasts that what they do is good enough.

"We don't have to try to be better than what we are. That's when mistakes happen; when you're trying to do something you don't normally do," Thompson said. "[On Friday night] we talked about [the term] 'We Are...' and I wrote, 'Us'. That's who we are."

The Nittany Lions placed second on the uneven bars, scoring a 49.300. The team recorded a 49.250 on vault, which was the fourth-highest team vault score of the day. Penn State finished on the balance beam, scoring a 48.500, coming in fifth place. 

In order to improve and build from this meet, Stauder said the team needs to work on confidence and knowing that "their best is good enough."

"We just need to go out there and do what we do everyday at the White Building," Stauder said.

Penn State will not host the Big Ten Championships for another 10 years, as it rotates from school to school each year.

"We told the girls, you will bring your children back the next time Penn State hosts," Thompson said.

Next up for the Nittany Lions is the NCAA Regional Championships, in their home gym again. The team's goal is to finish first or second to advance to the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala. 

Stauder said the team will be preparing for the NCAA Regional Championships by working hard on beam, gaining confidence on beam and working on the small details to improve everyone's scores.

Penn State is expected to be the No. 3 seed in the Regional Championships meet. The Nittany Lions will start on vault and end on floor, which is the team's typical rotation at home meets.

"It's going to be the same set up, all of the equipment is in the same places, all the same mats, it's all of our stuff, we know exactly what to expect," Thompson said. "We will get to go vault, BYE, bars, beam, BYE and then come out and rock floor at the end, and we'll know exactly what [score] we need [on floor] to win."

Big Ten Championships Preview - Pride of the Process

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By Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- With "heart" and "energy", the Penn State women's gymnastics team will take on the Big Ten Championships this weekend. The Nittany Lions are hosting the competition for the first time in seven years.

Each week, the Lions choose one word for the "Word of the Week" to focus on before each meet. This week, however, with it being a championship meet, the team decided to focus on two words: heart and energy.

"The heart of our team is just amazing. Our chemistry, helping one another every time we get up [for an event]," junior Krystal Welsh said.

With the championship meet being at home for the Lions, there is sure to be a lot of "energy."

"Because it's in our house, there is going to be a whole lot of energy and we're going to bring a lot of energy too," senior Kassidy Stauder said. "It's championship season, it's championship competition. So it's that much more exciting."

Hosting the championship meet provides familiarity and the opportunity for a large cheering section for the Nittany Lions.

"I'm just so excited to hear our fans in the stands. Any time we go to Big Tens anywhere, we only have a certain amount of people there. This will have family, friends, and other athletes cheering us on," Welsh said.  "It makes it so much easier to compete in our own arena, too."

The 14th-ranked Nittany Lions will be competing in Session Two at 5 p.m. on Saturday with No. 8 Michigan, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 13 Illinois. The Lions defeated Illinois and Michigan, but fell to Nebraska at home earlier in the season.

"Everyone is a tough competitor because it depends on who shows up that night," Stauder said. "But looking at the season, [the toughest competitor] would be Nebraska. We lost to them at a home meet and we definitely want to protect our house against them."

Leading up to the meet, the Nittany Lions will be doing different many things to prepare.  

In practice, the group worked on the "little details".

"We're definitely going to work on sticks. That's always our only downfall," Stauder said. "At our last meet, we had an incredible meet, but we just left some tenths out there on the floor with sticks."

The night before the meet, the gymnasts and coaches come together for a team meeting. On the day of the meet, the team has a "POP" meeting. "POP" means "Pride of the Process". In this meeting, the gymnasts participate in mental routines and get themselves in the competition mode.

Welsh and Stauder found the three "keys" to being successful in the Big Ten Championships:


1.     Have fun:

"We do our best when we are having fun. Our coaches always say that our best is good enough," Stauder said.  "We just need to go out there and have fun and do our best."

2.     Transferring what the team does in practice into the meets:

"It's important to transfer what we do in the White Building to what we're going to do in Rec Hall, not letting the crowd or the judges sitting watching let that affect us," Stauder said.

3.     Confidence:

"Go out there and know that everything in the universe is going to happen the way it's supposed to," Stauder said.

"We know we're going to hit. We know we are going to do well," Welsh said.

Watch the Lions compete to become the champions of the Big Ten in Rec Hall on Saturday evening. 

The Coaching Clause in Marriage Vows: The Thompsons Are In It 'For Better or Worse'

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By Gabrielle Richards, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's a rather unusual thing, a husband and wife coaching, together. For Jeff and Rachelle Thompson, coaching together is a normal activity, one that has occupied 15 of their 21 years of marriage.

The year was 1991. Jeff was in his second season as a full time coach at the University of Wisconsin and Rachelle was a senior at Louisiana State University. Wisconsin had just announced that they were dropping five varsity sports that year, one of which was gymnastics.

"They made the announcement right before NCAA regionals and we had a gymnast qualify," Jeff said. "So, I went to coach her at the tournament while the head coach stayed home to fight the legal battle."

Rachelle, a three-time NCAA All-American was set to compete at the regional tournament at Auburn University.

"We were in the bookstore at Toomer's Corner and we literally ran into each other," Rachelle said.

"We knew each other, but we had never spoken to each other," Jeff added.

After the tournament, Jeff asked Rachelle to come and coach at one of Wisconsin's summer camps and a year later they were married.

No, the dynamic duo didn't do back-handsprings down the aisle, as Jeff isn't a gymnast. He is a rugby player turned gymnastics coach, a passion he developed through his master's degree in biomechanics and through his childhood involvement at the local YMCA.

"I have always been interested in the science behind gymnastics," Jeff said. "I have always been passionate about the sport. My high school graduation ring has a gymnast on the side of it and my high school didn't even have a gymnastics team. It's weird, I know."  

The pair began coaching together at Auburn University in 1999. At the start of their tenure with the Tigers, Jeff was the head coach and Rachelle served as a choreographer and volunteer coach. She was promoted to assistant coach in 2002 and associate head coach in 2006. In the duo's time with the Tigers they produced four NCAA All-Americans, four All-SEC team members, three SEC gymnasts of the year, nine NCAA Championship qualifiers and four NCAA regional event champions.

"We have learned a lot about each other over the years," Rachelle said. "We have learned to balance our working relationship and our marriage in a unique way that makes it enjoyable."

If you have the opportunity to watch the Thompsons coach, you will see Rachelle doing some of the motions of her girls' routines, while Jeff is relaxed, watching from the sidelines.

"We don't normally fight with each other, but if we do its always about gymnastics," Jeff said with a laugh.

"But, I am always right," Rachelle chimed in.

And like any smart husband, Jeff agreed.

The Thompsons traded in their orange and navy blue coaching jackets in 2010 in exchange for the Big Ten coaching position at Penn State.

"This was a huge turning point for us," Rachelle said. "We came here wanting to win a national championship."

The Thompsons had an incredible freshman-coaching season in the Big Ten. Their team placed second at the 2011 Big Ten Championships and was the No. 2 seed heading into the NCAA Regional Championships.

"I think we were blessed with two sons because every year we have 15 daughters," Jeff said.

The duo has its coaching methods down to a science, but the true success as coaches is visible in the classroom. Winning an all-around championship is always a resume-worthy accomplishment, but coupled with a strong academic record, one is unstoppable. From their time at Auburn to their current position at Penn State, there has never been a year where the two haven't had a handful of Academic All-Americans.

"Coaching together has definitely influenced our parenting," Rachelle said. "I want to coach the girls to our best ability, but I also want to prepare them for their life after gymnastics. I can teach them how to flip in the air, but I can also teach them how to do their laundry, manage their money and grocery shop."

This year marks their fourth season with the Nittany Lions and so far, they have only lost two meets and secured the first 20-win season is the program's history. Penn State is ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten and No. 14 in the NCAA standings.

"We measure our success over the past four years by looking at Kassidy [Stauder] and Lindsay [Musgrove]," Rachelle said.

"I am proud of the gymnasts and people that have become," Jeff said.

"They are just amazing," Rachelle said.

It is obvious that the pair loves nothing more than to coach by each other's side, a reality that is a primary ingredient in their coaching philosophy. For 15 years the Thompsons have spent most of their days together, in the same gym, with the same people, but they wouldn't have it any other way.

"I couldn't imagine a day without coaching with him," Rachelle said. "We are best friends." 

Busy March Begins with Two Big Ten Team Titles

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The postseason push for Penn State teams in March is on.

The first weekend of the month kicked off in fine fashion with two teams tallying Big Ten championships to go along with an individual being named the top performer at the Big Ten Men's Swimming & Diving Championships.

In dramatic fashion, the Nittany Lion women's track & field team notched its third conference crown at the Big Ten Indoor Championships on Saturday afternoon.  It all came down to the 4x400-meter relay with the Lions leading Michigan by just half a point heading into the final event.  The Lions stormed to a victory in the relay to seal the title.

"The women were outstanding today," said Director of Track & Field and Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. "Michigan pressed us hard throughout the weekend, but we kept our composure and competed great. This is a championship win to remember."

Roughly 45 minutes after the women's track & field team was crowned champion, the Lady Lion basketball team finished off a 77-62 triumph over Michigan to clinch a share of its third-straight Big Ten regular season title.  The Lady Lions join Ohio State and Iowa as the only programs to win three or more consecutive Big Ten titles.

"It's the first time in program history that we have won three Big Ten Championships in a row," head coach Coquese Washington said. "When this program has such a storied legacy, to be able to do something that this program hasn't done before, it's pretty hard. The program has accomplished so much and for this class and team to do something that sets them apart, that's really cool."

In the pool, sophomore Shane Ryan capped off a strong outing for the Nittany Lion men's swimming team by becoming the first Penn State men's swimmer to be named Swimmer of the Big Ten Championships on Saturday.  Ryan broke the Big Ten record in the 100m freestyle, topping a mark set by former Northwestern Wildcat and 2012 London Olympics medalist Matt Grevers.  Ryan is the first Nittany Lion to win two individual gold medals at the Big Ten Championships.  His efforts powered the men's team to fifth in the team standings.  The men's team's performance came one week after the Nittany Lion women's swimming & diving team took third at the Big Ten Women's Championships.

With a standout weekend in the books, the Nittany Lions are full steam ahead in postseason mode beginning on Friday when the Lady Lions kick off play as the No. 1 seed at the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis.  Penn State will meet either Northwestern or Ohio State at noon (BTN) on Friday.  The semifinals take place on Saturday, with the tournament final on Sunday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. 

On Saturday, the three-time defending NCAA champion Penn State wrestling team will begin its Big Ten title defense at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.  Head coach Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lions will look for their fourth-straight Big Ten title over the weekend.  Additionally, seniors Ed Ruth and David Taylor have an opportunity to become Penn State's first four-time Big Ten individual champions.  Junior Matt Brown is the third Nittany Lion in the lineup with a Big Ten individual title.  The Big Ten finals will air live on BTN Sunday at 2 p.m.

There are several marquee events on the horizon following the action this weekend.  The 2014 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament is slated to begin on March 13 in Indianapolis.  The Nittany Lion men's hoops team will finish off its regular season this week with games at Northwestern and Minnesota.  The Lions will learn their seed for the tournament on Sunday.

The track and field squads will also be in action during the third weekend in March.  Penn State will travel to Albaquerque for the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 14-15.

Head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lion football team will wrap up winter conditioning this week in preparation for the start of spring practice on March 17.  The Nittany Lions will practice 15 times before the Blue-White Game on April 12 (1:30 p.m.).

The fourth weekend of March will feature no fewer than six postseason events for Penn State teams.  The No. 1 wrestling team will begin its NCAA title defense on March 20 in Oklahoma City at the 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championships.  The finals will take place on March 22.  The ESPN family of networks will televise all six of the NCAA Wrestling Championships sessions.

In Happy Valley, the women's gymnastics team plays host to the Big Ten Championships in Rec Hall on March 22.  Across campus, the Bryce Jordan Center is slated to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship.  Games are slated for 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on March 23 and 7 p.m. on March 25.

Out of town, the first Big Ten Hockey Tournament will take place in Saint Paul, Minn., beginning on March 20.  The NCAA Women's Swimming & Diving Championships begin on March 20 in Minneapolis, as well.  The Penn State fencing teams also kick of NCAA Championships competition in Columbus on March 20.

The month will wrap up with a weekend featuring the NCAA Men's Swimming & Diving Championships, which begin on March 27 in Austin, Texas.  The Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships begin on March 28 in Lincoln, Neb.

With two titles already in hand, it will be a busy month ahead for Penn State teams competing in postseason competition.  Stay tuned for complete coverage of the postseason push on

Key Dates Ahead in March

March 7 -
Noon (BTN) - Lady Lions vs. Ohio State/Northwestern (Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals - Indianapolis)
March 8 - 11 a.m./6 p.m. - Big Ten Wrestling Championships (Madison, Wis.)
March 9
- 12/2 p.m. (BTN) - Big Ten Wrestling Championships (Madison, Wis.)
March 13-16 - Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament (Indianapolis)
March 14-15 - NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships (Albuquerque, N.M.)
March 17 - First Day of Spring Football
March 20-22 - NCAA Wrestling Championships (Oklahoma City, Okla.); NCAA Fencing Championships (Columbus, Ohio); NCAA Women's Swimming & Diving Championships (Minneapolis, Minn.); Big Ten Men's Hockey Tournament (Saint Paul, Minn.)
March 22 - 12/5 p.m. - Big Ten Women's Gymnastics Championships (University Park, Pa.)
March 23 - 12:30/3 p.m. - NCAA Women's Basketball First Round (University Park, Pa.)
March 25 - 7 p.m. - NCAA Women's Basketball Second Round (University Park, Pa.)
March 27-29 - NCAA Men's Swimming & Diving Championships (Austin, Texas)
March 28-29 - Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships (Lincoln, Neb.)

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Nittany Lions Close Out Quad Meet With A Win, Touching Tribute To Seniors

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By Gabrielle Richards, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Penn State women's gymnastics team funneled into the locker room before Friday's meet, they knew that they had to win. The win wouldn't just signify a near-perfect home record, but it would be the icing on top of the cake for the seniors. Emotions were running high as the Nittany Lions made their way onto the mat; each teammate presented a little, handmade gift to the seniors.

The team delivered a solid, heartwarming performance in their win at Friday's quad meet. The Nittany Lions won their last home meet of the season with a score of 196.600, beating Western Michigan, Bridgeport, and Yale.

Across the board, the Nittany Lions delivered a solid performance; a great close to the home season for seniors Lindsay Musgrove and Kassidy Stauder.

Penn State started the quad meet on vault with a lineup much shorter than they are used to. After suffering injuries at last week's meet, junior all-arounder Randi Lau did not compete. With her absence, the Nittany Lions competed with five vaulters, instead of the usual six. Musgrove and Stauder scored 9.850, with Emma Sibson, Krystal Welsh, and Sidney Sanabria-Robles each scoring a 9.875, posting a total event score of 49.325.

Head coach Jeff Thompson was most impressed with his team's vault performance, the event that housed the their highest score of the evening.

"With it being senior night, I was a little worried that we weren't going to have a great night," Thompson said. "We only had five girls compete on vault and they each knew they had to hit. We got off to a great start."

The team followed suit on bars with Stauder posting a 9.925 and junior Alex Witt posting a career high 9.850 in her first meet after recovering from an injury. The team finished their rotation on the uneven bars with a score of 49.225.

"What a great way for Alex [Witt] to come back," Thompson said. "She put up the second highest score on bars."

The Nittany Lions put up a score of 49.075 on balance beam and 48.975 on floor, sweeping the top three spots in the all-around.

"What a great way to win on senior night," Thompson said. "The kids fell back on their training and they did what they had to do to win."

Saying Goodbye to Musgrove and Stauder
Musgrove, Stauder and Coach Thompson each started their Penn State careers at the same time four years ago. In a touching video tribute to the seniors prior to the awards ceremony and in the post-match press conference, it was clear how much these seniors mean to their coaching staff. It was hard to miss the tears welling up in Coach Thompson's eyes as he reminisced on his seniors.

"It is always hard to say goodbye to seniors, but this class is different," Thompson said. "They are the first group who started and finished with us. Those girls signed up for one thing and were stuck with us. We give them a lot of credit and a lot of thanks because it would have been easy for them to change their mind and go somewhere else."

Musgrove made her transition to Penn State in 2010; she quickly adjusted to the rigorous schedule of Big Ten gymnastics and relished at the opportunity to succeed academically. The Texas native has not only been a major contributor on vault, balance beam and floor for the Nittany Lions, but she has been recognized for equally impressive performance in the classroom. Musgrove was awarded Academic All-Big Ten honors and Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Awards every season except her freshman year, making the dean's list all but one semester.

"Being able to represent such an amazing school and being apart of a team is a whole other family away from home," Musgrove said. "It has been an amazing four years."

Musgrove has competed in the NCAA Regional Championships each year of her collegiate gymnastics career. She reflected on her first time competing in Rec Hall and how that experience has fueled her passion for the past four years.

"When you compete in club gymnastics there is only one set of bleachers and you perform in front of your family," Musgrove said. "Competing in Rec Hall is just so different than that. There are fans in the stands, your classmates, and even little girls who look up to you. Being able to do what I have been training for since I was 2 is just amazing."

Musgrove will graduate this semester with a degree in bio behavioral health, with the intention of going to medical school. She hopes to use her degree to continue her passion for sports; trading in her leotard for a lab coat and become a sports medicine doctor.  

"We have grown so much over the past four years," Stauder said. "I am happy I go through this experience with Lindsay [Musgrove]."

Stauder has made a lasting impact competitively on the Penn State women's gymnastics team. She encompasses the definition of consistency, striving to finish on the top of the leaderboard in every event that she competes in.

"We have been afforded such a great opportunity to be here," Stauder said. "From our professors, teammates, coaches, nutritionists, and everyone who has helped make this time the best for us, we have been given the opportunity to go so far."

As a Pennsylvania girl born and bread, coming to Penn State has always been a dream of Stauder's. In the course of her four years as a Nittany Lion she has constantly set the bar higher for herself, beating her career bests on a regular basis. This Friday's meet was no different: she set a new career high all-around score with a 39.425.

"I wasn't really thinking about the all-around score going into the meet," Stauder said. "It's a great feeling on senior night to go out with great scores and to improve week after week."

Stauder is hoping to beat her scores of last year's Big Ten performance where she finished third in the all-around, took second on the balance beam, and tied for fifth on bars and floor. She hopes that when she turns her tassel in May that she can improve last year's scores as she has been doing all season. Stauder will graduate with a degree in elementary education and with a personality perfectly suited for teaching.

"I think what I will miss the most about those two is that they are unpredictable," Thompson said. "Every day in the gym it is always something different. This is one of the closest teams that I have ever had the pleasure of coaching. They genuinely love each other."

Coach Thompson is notorious for sharing a "word of the week" with his team. When asked if he had one word to describe his seniors he didn't hesitate when he chose the word "fabulous." 

Stauder and Musgrove 'Focus On The Details' For Senior Meet

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By Gabrielle Richards, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week in and week out the Penn State women's gymnastics team strives to "compete how they practice." Head coach Jeff Thompson believes that this is the key to winning big meets and scoring a lot of points. For seniors Lindsay Musgrove and Kassidy Stauder, being consistent comes naturally, but it's the little details that prove to be the most difficult.

"Gymnastics is based on the tiny little details," Musgrove said. "Nerves make you a little shaky or you might want to push harder to do better in a meet, but that never works in your favor. That is why we try to compete how we train every single day. We have been sticking all the time in practice, so we just have to keep doing the same thing."

Over the past few weeks, the Nittany Lions have not only been consistent, they have been putting up impressive scores. Coming off of a 196.150-197.225 loss to No.8 Nebraska on Feb.8, Penn State used the close match as a measuring stick of comparison, realizing they can compete against the big teams. The Feb. 15 match proved just that: Penn State beat No.15 Illinois 196.675-195.600.

"That meet against Illinois really built our confidence," Musgrove said. "We have been working on all of the little details in practice and we are hoping to see the same thing happen this weekend."

The Nittany Lions return to Rec Hall this Friday after winning a quad meet at Rutgers last weekend, besting Rutgers, Temple and Ursinus with a first place score of 195.825. Penn State will host a quad meet of its own Friday at 7 p.m., welcoming Yale, Western Michigan and Bridgeport to Happy Valley. This Friday's quad meet will be senior night for Musgrove and Stauder, who will be competing in Rec Hall for the last time before the Nittany Lions host the Big Ten Championships on March 22.

To encourage the mantra of "competing how you practice," Coach Thompson offers a "word of the week" for his Nittany Lions to use as inspiration in practice and on the competition floor. For this week, the word is "navigate." Penn State returned home last weekend with another "W," but was forced to navigate around an injury suffered by junior all-arounder Randi Lau.

"This weekend is going to be a true test of how well we did navigate with Randi being out," Musgrove said. "We have to replace her on every event, so we have girls coming back from their injuries to compete this weekend."

Friday's quad meet is the first home meet in almost a month that is not a double dual and Musgrove said that the team would miss having the men's gymnastics team cheering them on.

"Quad meets are really exciting and full of energy," Musgrove said. "I am looking forward to the whole meet over all. It is our last home meet before the Big Tens. Right now, we are trying to get the best home scores we can get so that we will be ranked at the best sport possible." 


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