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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Just over a week removed from the Big Ten championships, the Penn State men's gymnastics team is in full preparation for the upcoming national championship meet.
The meet will take place on Friday and Saturday at West Point, a place the Nittany Lions took the overall team title in the West Point Open at the first meet of the season.
After scoring 411.200 at the Big Ten championships and picking up a fourth place finish, head coach Randy Jepson likes where the team is at headed into the final meet.
"You take a third of our scholarships out and you tell us we're going to be fourth in the Big Ten and knocking on the door to qualify for the finals at the NCAAs with a 90 percent hit, that's not bad," Jepson said. "We've performed to our expectation with what we have and what we can do, and I feel like we can even be a little bit better."
For guys like sophomore Wyatt Tyndall, who picked up an individual third place finish at Big Tens, the focus is all on taking the successes from last week and applying them to team performance now that everyone is all in for a national title.
"The big thing was that we came up big as a team, we have a lot of momentum going into the NCAAs," Tyndall said. "We had a few mistakes as a team as a whole, and I think we can feed off that."
The Nittany Lions are one of 12 teams to qualify for the team competition, with the top three teams moving on to Saturday's final. The Big Ten once again showed its depth, as all seven schools made the 12-team field.
Competing against quality teams week in and week out may have helped the Nittany Lions in the long run, as they have been preparing to win at the highest level all season and always had to be at the top of their game to have success in the Big Ten.
"We've been talking about peaking and preparing and being ready at the end, and they're physically prepared but there's always that question mark in guys' minds," Jepson said. "I think after our senior competition, where we performed very well, and this last weekend where we went out and did that, we're ready to go beyond that now and I think the guys have quite a bit of confidence going into the NCAAs."
All season the team has relied on their six seniors to put up big numbers in critical situations, and those guys have been able to consistently deliver time after time. This weekend will be the last time all of the seniors will compete together, something Jepson has done his best to avoid thinking about.
"It's always tough because as a coach and as an athlete, you don't really think that way," Jepson said. "You want to think about the task at hand, and that's preparing, going out and performing and getting the job done. But then all of a sudden it hits them and us and wow, you know that went really quick."
On the other side of the spectrum, the underclassmen are still relatively new to the championship process and could be battling some nerves. Tyndall has certainly noticed the difference the second time around, coming in much more confident for this meet than he was as a freshman.
"I kind of know what to expect. Experience is the biggest thing and just being out there not as nervous this time."
Nerves aside, the Nittany Lions have to like their chances, as they posted the sixth-best qualifying score at 412.725. Oklahoma comes in as the favorite, qualifying with a score of 432.850, nearly 10 points better than the second-highest team. Ohio State's 418.050 is the highest Big Ten mark and third overall.
Oklahoma, Stanford, California, Air Force and Navy join the seven Big Ten schools to complete the field.