2010 Men's Gymnastics Season Outlook
Jan. 4, 2010
For the Penn State men's gymnastics team, youth will be a prominent theme for the 2010 season. Just five Nittany Lions have two or more years of competitive experience at the NCAA level and the freshman class makes up nearly 50 percent of the roster.
"We are very young, so there is a lot of teaching that will have to go on this year and educating on how we train and bring people along, what's expected of them, and how they will be required to step up and carry the banner for the next four years. But the guys are hungry and working hard," said Penn State head coach Randy Jepson, who is entering his 19th year at the helm of one of the nation's traditional powerhouse programs.
Providing leadership for the preseason No. 6-ranked Nittany Lions will be five experienced and skilled upperclassmen - seniors Allen Harris, the team captain for 2010, Matt Greenfield, Noam Shaham, and Nick Virbitsky and junior Warren Yang. All have been a part of championship teams and have had their individual triumphs.
"We will have a nice mix of veterans and youth, so it's been fun to coach," continued Jepson. "I think, across the board, we are solid on events but not overpowering. We will very good in a couple of events, but we have some weaknesses too. Health will play a role, but we have more depth than last year, which will be helpful. Our success will be contingent upon consistency and not beating ourselves. We will need to be `on' in order to be a threat."
Shaham is consistently strong while Virbitsky, an All-American in the event as a freshman, and Harris shared Penn State's high score in the floor in 2009, a 15.450. Harris, however, is recovering from a biceps tear suffered this summer during training and may not be able to compete at the onset of the season.
"Pommel horse is an event that we have seen improvement on, but we still need to build consistency," said Jepson. "We need to get a solid base level. Confidence will be a big key in order for us to stay in the hunt. We have been doing a lot of routines early to develop that type of confidence. I think we have a good core group that can step up, but we still have to concentrate and focus.
"We are not super overpowering in terms of physical strength, but we have solid rings performers," said Jepson.
Sophomore Miguel Pineda, who compiled five first place finishes in the rings a year ago in his freshman campaign, will anchor the line-up. Redshirt sophomore Colin Hill has made enough gains in terms of physical strength and fine tuning his presentation to be considered by Jepson as one of PSU's top rings competitors. Senior Noam Shaham has been a valuable contributor throughout his career but lingering shoulder problems have slowed his progress. It is hoped he will be in full form by midseason.
Scott Rosenthal, who Jepson describes as "one of the strongest freshman we have ever had at Penn State," has shown a great deal of promise in training for the season and should fit it nicely. Fellow freshman Parker Raque could also make an impact.
"It's not good enough to have a 16.200 start value any more when some in the NCAA have 16.600s to 17.000s. We need to make that next jump. We can be competitive with a 16.200 vault but in order to make headway, you must be in that range. We will continue to work towards raising start values on vault."
Veterans Noam Shaham, Nick Virbitsky, Allen Harris, and Matt Albrecht will spearhead Penn State's efforts in the vault. Harris and Albrecht each won dual meet vault titles last season while Shaham and Virbitsky had vaults that ranked first and second, respectively, on the team in 2009. Add freshmen Mackenzie Dow and Francisco Vazquez to that strong core and the vault could once again afford Penn State an advantage over opponents.
Senior Noam Shaham has learned some new elements that will prove helpful, redshirt sophomore Logan Wyman has made strides with an improved routine, and junior Warren Yang, if he rebounds quickly enough from his shoulder injury, will be key to Penn State's fortunes. In addition, newcomer Felix Aronovich, an experienced international competitor, will contribute immediately and freshman Tony Beck and Mackenzie Dow should fit in and give Jepson's line-up a boost.
"We have to not beat ourselves on the parallel bars. We must be clean, solid, and confident."
Nick Virbitsky, another senior, has solidified a spot in the PSU line-up by increasing the difficulty of his routine and classmate Matt Greenfield, who had three top three finishes in the high bar a year ago, will be a major contributor in 2010.
Foremost on that list is Noam Shaham, who competed in the all-around in six meets last season. His top finish was a second place showing in a win over Michigan and he ended the 2009 season ranked No. 11 in the nation in the all-around.
"Noam's pommel horse lags, but he has strong five events and, if he can hang on in that sixth, he will be fine," said Jepson. "Felix Aronovich is a very accomplished all-arounder. Miguel Pineda will have a tough time making all of the events, but he is solid and provides a lot of depth. Matt Albrecht has upped his game physically and is more prepared than he was last year. He now knows what it takes to compete at this level."
"The schedule is challenging because we are so young," said Jepson. "All of the Big Ten teams will be formidable and there are good tests from the beginning to the end of the season. But these challenges but will prepare us not only for the end run of this year as we head into the postseason at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships but also for the future."
Penn State begins the season in traditional fashion, facing Army for the seventh consecutive year in its opener. The Nittany Lions will meet the Black Knights on Jan. 9 in Rec Hall in the first of five home meets. Penn State will also welcome William & Mary (Jan. 31), Big Ten rival Illinois (Feb. 20), and perennial power Oklahoma (March 20) to Rec Hall in 2009 and will also host Minnesota and Temple (March 6) in its lone home tri-meet of the year. Revenge will serve as motivation for the Lions when they clash with Illinois, Minnesota, and Oklahoma as they handed Penn State three of its four regular season losses in 2009. Versus the Sooners a year ago, PSU posted its highest team total of the season in a victory in Norman, scoring a 356.300.
The Nittany Lions' first road test comes in week two when they return to the West Point Open (Jan. 15-16), seeking its 12th consecutive team title. Penn State will also confront stern road challenges when it competes against conference foes Michigan (Jan. 24), the NCAA runner-up in 2009, and Ohio State (Feb. 27). In mid-March, the Lions will make their longest road trip of the season, traveling west to the Golden State to square off with host Cal and Nebraska in a tri-meet.
Penn State will seek its third conference title at the 2010 Big Ten Championships, scheduled for April 2-3 in Columbus, Ohio at host Ohio State's St. John Arena.
The 2010 season will culminate with the National Collegiate Championships, to be hosted by the United States Military Academy from April 15-17. All three days of competition will take place at Christl Arena in West Point, N.Y.