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Feb. 4, 2013
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa- Entering Friday's Big Ten opener against Ohio State, the Penn State men's gymnastics team was looking to make a statement.
While the Nittany Lions had started off the season strong by wining their first two meets and climbing to the top spot in the GymInfo national poll, they knew the fifth ranked Buckeyes stood as their toughest test yet.
In front of their home fans in Rec Hall, Penn State used an impressive all around performance to claim a 444.300-432.300 victory and, in their minds, serve notice to the rest of the Big Ten.
"I think we made a statement here tonight," said sophomore Craig Hernandez. "Hopefully this will give the other teams in our conference something to look at."
Freshmen Trevor Howard, who dominated the meet by winning three of the six individual events, agreed with Hernandez while adding that the victory legitimizes the Nittany Lions as national title contenders.
"Getting a win against a team like [Ohio State] is huge for our mindset," said Howard. "Now that we're winning against Big Ten schools I think people will start to take note of us."
With seven Big Ten teams ranked in the top ten, head coach Randy Jepson and his squad know that they will have to get used to beating schools like Ohio State on a regular basis.
Still, Jepson was extremely impressed with his gymnast's performance in their first challenge against a top five team.
"It's early still and teams are still developing but we know they're going to be up there at the end of the season," said Jepson. "Still, I think we're ready earlier than most teams and it's always nice to go up against the foes you're going to face later on."
One aspect that Jepson complimented his men on was their ability to handle the pressure of facing a conference opponent.
Although the Nittany Lions admitted that they did feel under more pressure than usual at the start of the meet, the extra nerves helped them keep focused.
"Its definitely a little more nerve racking going up against another Big Ten school," said sophomore Matthew Felleman. "I think those nerves help us compete better though."
Someone who definitely didn't let their nerves affect them was Howard, the Columbus, Ohio native, who thrived competing against his hometown team.
Competing in all six individual events, Howard claimed the top spot in the floor exercise, rings, and parallel bars to edge Ohio State's Jake Martin for first place in the all-around competition by a score of 88.250-88.000.
Afterwards, Howard admitted that he was too focused on his own performance to realize that he and Martin were in such a close battle.
"Looking at the scoreboard just adds more pressure that you don't need so I was just focusing on myself," said Howard. "I didn't realize it was such a close meet until I heard it over the loudspeaker."
Howard's ability to stay focused and compete hard on every routine, even in the events he is not accustomed to competing in, drew the praise of Jepson.
"I was really pleased with Trevor tonight," said Jepson. "He only had one other all-around performance this year but he went out and competed on every routine, even ones he's struggled on before like pommel horse."
Another gymnast who shone on the pommel horse was Hernandez, who scored a 15.400 to tie with Ohio State's Michael Newburger for first place.
Ignoring the scoreboard also worked well for Hernandez, who like Howard, stated he was completely focused on himself and not what his opponent had done.
"I've done the routine so many times in practice that I didn't think about it too much," said Hernandez. "I started off a little slower than usual but it ended up working out quite nicely."
The entire night worked out quite nicely for the Nittany Lions, who will now turn their focus to the Winter Cup competition in Las Vegas, Nev. this weekend.