2009 Men's Gymnastics Season Outlook
Dec. 30, 2008
Following unprecedented back-to-back championship seasons, Penn State enters 2009 aiming to maintain that level of success. A daunting task is ahead for the Nittany Lions, though, as they experienced significant losses from their 2008 Big Ten title-winning team, including All-Americans Derek Helsby, Vladi Klurman, Santiago Lopez, and Tommy Ramos. However, 2008 NCAA All-Around Champion and Big Ten Gymnast of the Year Casey Sandy is back for his senior season and is ready to lead the Nittany Lions in their pursuit of conference and national glory. Leadership will also be ably provided by senior captain Josh Borromeo, a seasoned competitor with sound character and a dynamic personality. In addition, offseason recruiting has produced a talented freshman class that has the ability and maturity to make an immediate impact.
Guiding the team is an experienced and expert staff, led by 2008 Big Ten and CGA Central Region Coach of the Year, Randy Jepson. In his 18th year at the helm of the Nittany Lion program, he is Penn State's all-time winningest coach. Back for his 13th season in Happy Valley is assistant Slava Boiko. The 2008 CGA Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year, he is renown worldwide as a master technician and is prized by his pupils for his teaching abilities. Also returning is former six-time All-American at Penn State and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, Kevin Tan, who capably offers the perspective of an active, world-class gymnast to current Nittany Lions.
"Floor exercise should be one of our stronger events. We lost Santiago Lopez, who was so consistent and solid, but we have a number of returners who will give us great depth," said Jepson.
Two All-Americans, Casey Sandy and Nick Virbitsky, along with Allen Harris and Noam Shaham will contribute veteran leadership and experience. Redshirt sophomore Cody Carnahan's powerful tumbling could make him a mainstay in the line-up. Sophomore Warren Yang returns after competing in the floor exercise in seven meets a year ago and freshman Matt Albrecht will be a valuable addition for the event.
"Pommel horse will be tough," said Jepson. "We have had losses to graduation in Derek Helsby, Vladi Klurman, and Brad Spicer. It will be difficult to fill those spots, but we have guys who are working hard to do just that."
Casey Sandy is a two-time All-American on the pommel horse and is coming off a season in which he claimed nine top three finishes in the event. Another senior, Shaun Antonio, will lend experience and a sound routine. After that, Penn State will be forced to rely on newcomers and untested competitors. After redshirting last season, Logan Wyman has made dramatic strides and is poised to make an impact. Freshmen Miguel Pineda, Matt Albrecht, and Greg Bruns could also earn spots in the line-up.
Senior team captain Josh Borromeo, a rings specialist, has developed further and will prove valuable in terms of both performance and leadership. Casey Sandy, an All-American in 2008 in the event, is a threat to duplicate that achievement this season. Noam Shaham, who is returning from an injury that set him back six months, swings well and demonstrates solid strength. Freshman Miguel Pineda is very physically strong and is renown in the junior ranks for his still rings work. Redshirt freshman Colin Hill and Cody Carnahan will also factor in the line-up.
"The vault should be very clean and solid for us," said Jepson. "We have a lot of experience. We have good depth and a lot of people to choose from, which will be nice because then the same competitors don't have to take the pounding every weekend. We will be able to rest some and not have a drop-off."
Casey Sandy, with his 16.600 vault, will anchor the line-up. He won three titles in 2008, scoring a season-high and team-best 16.100 in the team finals of the national collegiate championships. Others who will figure in as regular contributors include veterans Allen Harris, Cody Carnahan, Nick Virbitsky, Noam Shaham, and Warren Yang and newcomer Matt Albrecht.
"We do not have a lot of depth and are untested. Our routines aren't loaded and we do not have real high-level routines in terms of their ability to score. P-bars is an event we are going to have to do well in to keep pace and challenge other teams. We are working hard to become consistent and hopefully we will see that as the season progresses."
Casey Sandy has proven to be an elite parallel bars performer after winning the Big Ten title and placing second at the national collegiate championships in 2008. The combination of his routine's degree of difficulty and his limitless ability makes him a favorite to capture the national title in 2009. Shaun Antonio and Noam Shaham will also be cornerstones of Penn State's parallel bars efforts this season.
"I am really pleased with our high bar. We have made really good strides and I think we will have one of the more competitive line-ups in the country. Usually, at this time of year high bar is an event I am apprehensive about, but I think we have quality routines and a high level of experience."
"Casey is primed and ready to defend his title," said Jepson. "He has the ability to win in multiple events, but it is a long and tough season. He is healthy and growing in confidence."
Freshman Miguel Pineda is one of the most highly touted incoming all-arounders in the nation and will combine with Sandy to provide the Nittany Lions with a strong one-two punch. Noam Shaham is in command of all of his routines and is primed to have the best season of his career. If he can stay healthy, Shaham will undoubtedly be a factor.
"The schedule is great, but it will be very challenging," said Jepson. "Our young team will get thrown into the fire right away but that's how you build. That's what it will take to build character and prepare them for what they will face during their time here."
Penn State begins the season in traditional fashion, facing Army for the sixth consecutive year in its opener. The Nittany Lions will meet the Black Knights on Jan. 10 in Rec Hall in the first of four home meets. Penn State will also welcome Big Ten rivals Michigan (Jan. 24) and Ohio State (Feb. 28) and west coast power California (March 14) to Rec Hall in 2009. Revenge will serve as motivation for the Lions when they clash with Michigan and Cal, as they handed Penn State two of its three regular season losses in 2008. Versus the Buckeyes a year ago, PSU posted its highest team total of the season in a victory in Columbus, scoring a 360.550.
The Nittany Lions' first road test comes in week two when they return, after a one-year hiatus, to the West Point Open (Jan. 16-17). Prior to missing last year's meet due to a scheduling conflict, Penn State had dominated the annual competition, winning 10 consecutive team titles. Penn State will also confront stern road challenges when it competes against conference foes Minnesota (Jan. 31) and Illinois (Feb. 14). Early March will feature back-to-back match-ups with Temple (March 6) and William & Mary (March 8) on the road in the same weekend.
"That will be tough because it's later in the season. There will not be a lot of recovery time, but it will serve as a pre-cursor to the format of the NCAA Championships," said Jepson.
The regular season culminates on March 21 when Penn State travels to Norman, Okla. for a showdown with defending national champion Oklahoma.
Penn State will seek its second consecutive and third overall conference title at the 2009 Big Ten Championships, scheduled for April 3-4 at the University of Michigan's Cliff Keen Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The 2009 season will draw to a close with the National Collegiate Championships, to be hosted by the University of Minnesota from April 16-18. The three-day competition will be held at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis, Minn.