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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; April 13, 2007 - The Penn State men's gymnastics team won its NCAA-record 12th national championship Friday evening at home in Rec Hall in epic, come-from-behind fashion, thrilling a partisan blue-and-white clad crowd of 2,409. The Nittany Lions posted a season high-score of 221.000 to secure 16-year head coach Randy Jepson's third team title.
"I am so thrilled for our guys," said Jepson. "We had a goal at the beginning of the season and they came through with flying colors. They never let down. I am really proud of Matt Cohen and the rest of the group."
Penn State edged out powerhouse Oklahoma (220.200) for the crown, depriving the Sooners of their third consecutive national championship and fifth in six years.
"We knew that it was going to come down to tenths of a point," Jepson said. "That is the way it is. We tell our guys to live in the moment and celebrate the moment. Just to savor it and not get uptight about it. Being at your best in those situations is key. You just have to thrive on those moments and we just look forward to it."
Stanford, a team the Lions fell to on the road late in the regular season, placed third with a score of 218.450. Big Ten teams Michigan (218.400), Illinois (217.300), and Minnesota (217.150) rounded out the super six field.
The Nittany Lions began the evening in the same event in which it posted a season-best score in Thursday's national qualifier, the vault. They could not duplicate that total tonight, but good efforts by a trio of freshmen in Nick Virbitsky (Harrisburg, Pa.), Noam Shaham (Kfar Saba, Israel), and Allen Harris (Lancaster, Pa.), along with junior Vladi Klurman (North Miami Beach, Fla.), earned Penn State a 35.600 and a solid start.
In the next two events, the parallel bars and high bar, Penn State had its ups and downs but standout performances by junior Tommy Ramos (Guaynabo, P.R.) in both events helped keep the Lions in the hunt.
Needing a momentum-building lift, Penn State rotated to the floor exercise, an unlikely place to find such a boost, as the Nittany Lions have had mixed success in the event in 2007. Undaunted, the Nittany Lions responded in a big way, blowing away their season-high mark with a team score of 37.900. Sophomore Shaun Antonio (Rio Rancho, N.M.) set a career-high with a score of 9.400 while Nick Virbitsky posted a team season-best mark of 9.650 to lead Penn State. Junior Santiago Lopez (Cibola del Mar, Mex.) (9.450) and Noam Shaham (9.400) also contributed key efforts.
Penn State then went into a bye and watched as Oklahoma posted an impressive 38.300 on the still rings. When back in action, the Nittany Lions responded by living up to their billing as the No. 1 team in the nation on the pommel horse, totaling a finals team-high score of 36.150. Sophomore Casey Sandy (Brampton, Ont.) and junior Derek Helsby (Orlando, Fla.) led the way, drawing scores of 9.300 and 9.200, respectively.
Heading into the final rotation, the Nittany Lions found themselves a sizeable 1.6 points behind Oklahoma and fully aware it would need a monumental effort to have a shot at the title. It got just that. Allen Harris (9.200), Vladi Klurman (9.700), and Casey Sandy (9.550) each established career highs while Derek Helsby (9.500), Matt Cohen (Agoura Hills, Calif.) (9.550), and Tommy Ramos (9.650) contributed excellent routines. The down-to-the-wire rally was enough to give Penn State its storybook ending and the program its third national championship since 2000.
"I am unbelievably happy to closeout my career at Penn State by winning a national title at home," said senior captain and Nissen-Emery Award winner Matt Cohen. "So this is the sweetest way to go out. I am so proud of my coach Randy and my teammates."
With performers that placed in the top 10 in each event tonight qualifying for the individual event finals, Penn State will have five competitors vying for national title in five events on Saturday evening. Included in that group is Nick Virbitsky (floor exercise), Casey Sandy (pommel horse), Derek Helsby (pommel horse), Vladi Klurman (still rings), and Tommy Ramos (still rings, parallel bars, high bar). Competition on the final day of the 2007 National Collegiate Men's Gymnastics Championships is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET in Rec Hall.
The NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships will air on ESPN at 2:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, April 17.