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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The outcome wasn't always a certainty, but the Penn State men's gymnastics team was able to outlast Michigan at Rec Hall, winning 409.2-405.3. The Nittany Lions struggled in the early going, but they were able to find their groove in the end and pull out their first Big Ten home win.
Penn State dug themselves a hole early, as the Nittany Lions had two slips in the pommel horse, their very first event.
"We really struggled on pommel horse, which is unfortunate because we are really good there," head coach Randy Jepson said. "We hoped to get some distance on Michigan and that didn't happen."
The strong momentum continued as Penn State, despite trailing after three events, began to find stride later in the meet.
"One of the things we've been teaching this squad is learning how to put your foot on your opponent," Jepson said. "The last three events, they really did that. They came through and we only had one hit that we missed in the last three events. Especially on high bar, and we had three great sticks to wrap that up. Great finish."
One event that stood out in the turnaround was the rings, as the Nittany Lions tallied the top three scores in the event from Dominic DiFulvio, Clarke, and Chris Sands. DiFulvio won the event, finishing with a 14.400 score and one of the most consistent performances he had put together all season.
"That was a big stepping stone since that's the event we were down by a point or two," DiFulvio said. "We needed to get a big rings score and that was big. We're going to just keep that momentum throughout the rest of the year."
Freshman Sam Zakutney put in another strong performance as well, winning two events. Zakutney tallied a 14.200 on parallel bars and a 14.300 on floor exercise. Zakutney has been hitting on all his routines at home in the last few meets, as this performance backs up an all-around title that he earned last time in Rec Hall against Ohio State.
Saturday wasn't just about the competition, as the 2007 national championship team was in attendance to witness the victory and celebrate the 10th anniversary of their achievement.
"We've been told plenty of stories that happened with their team, so it was really cool to see Matt Cohen and those guys," DiFulvio said. "It's really inspirational. Those guys went through a lot during their season that they won that championship. To have them being here to cheer us on is huge for us. I was able to speak to Matt Cohen a little bit, and it was really awesome to do that."
Interacting with the national championship team allowed the current Penn State gymnasts to pick up some positive advice going into the final few weeks of the season.
"[Cohen] said always keep your head up and always stay humble," DiFulvio said. "I've kind of had that mentality, so hearing him say that, it's really nice to hear since that's the mentality I've been having."
DiFulvio and the rest of the Lions certainly kept their heads up this afternoon, and they look to carry the momentum through the rest of the year. They host Iowa next weekend in the final meet of the regular season before heading to the Big Ten and NCAA championships.