Men¡¯s Gymnastics Places First in National Qualifier; Advances to Vie for National Championship
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; April 12, 2007 ¨C The Penn State men¡¯s gymnastics team posted a score of 218.900 to place first in the second qualifying session of the 2007 National Collegiate Championships on Thursday night in Rec Hall. With the top three teams advancing from the session, the Nittany Lions have earned the opportunity to vie for the program's NCAA-record 12th national championship on Friday evening.
¡°We¡are thrilled to be healthy so we can go for another day,¡± said 16-year Penn State head coach Randy Jepson. ¡°We did not want to be fourth in the meet today. We have a chance. Tomorrow is a brand new day. Nothing counts from today. Anything can happen. My guys know that and the other guys up here know that and I think it is going to be a slugfest. The fans are going to be treated to a fantastic meet. This is something that you are not going to want to miss.¡±
The Nittany Lions edged two-time defending national champion Oklahoma (218.600) in the evening session. Minnesota (216.900) also qualified for the team finals, finishing just ahead of California (216.550).
Stanford (216.350), Illinois (216.300), and Michigan (215.350) advanced to the team finals from the afternoon's session. Number-one seed and 2007 Big Ten Champion Ohio State failed to make it out of the qualifier for the second consecutive year.
Behind standout performances from sophomore Casey Sandy (Brampton, Ont.) and senior Justin Miklos (Flemington, N.J.), Penn State took first in the pommel horse with a team score of 36.500. The Nittany Lions set a season-high in the vault, scoring a 36.050, to tie Minnesota for the top spot. Junior Santiago Lopez (Cibola del Mar, Mex.) placed second in the event (9.300) to lead Penn State.
¡°We are¡extremely excited to be through the first day,¡± said 2007 Nissen-Emery Award winner and team captain Matt Cohen (Agoura Hills, Calif.). ¡°The first day is the nerve-racking day to be honest with you. As Randy said, you do not want to be fourth on the first day. My team was a little bit nervous to start the meet, but we did great right off the bat. We had a few misses here and there, but we kept on fighting. We are excited to be going on for another day. The whole team is excited. We will get some rest and we will be back for a slugfest tomorrow.¡±
Cohen tied teammate Tommy Ramos (Guaynabo, P.R.) for fourth place in the still rings, drawing a 9.600 from the judges. Junior Derek Helsby (Orlando, Fla.) finished one spot back with a 9.550.
Freshmen Noam Shaham (Kfar Saba, Israel) and Nick Virbitsky (Harrisburg, Pa.) turned in key performances in the floor exercise to give the Lions a much-need lift the event. Shaham earned a career-high score of 9.450 while Virbitsky posted a solid 9.400.
The 2007 National Collegiate Men¡¯s Gymnastics Championships will continue on Fri., April 13 at 7 p.m. with the team and all-around finals. Performers that place in the top 10 in each event during the team finals competition advance to the individual event finals, set for Sat., April 14 at 7 p.m.