Entering the final rotation, the No. 17 Penn State women's gymnastics team knew the dual-meet was going to come down to the wire.
The Nittany Lions moved to the floor exercise trailing No. 23 Illinois by a mere .075, as the Fighting Illini were set to finish their meet on the balance beam.
Even though the floor has been their third-best event this season, the Lions were confident in their ability to nail their routines in front of the Rec Hall crowd.
"We knew that if we hit an awesome floor, even if they hit a great beam, that we should come out ahead," senior Brandi Personett said.
Three different Lions set or tied season-bests on the floor exercise Saturday night, as Penn State tallied its best floor exercise total of the season and left Illinois in the dust.
A 49.150 on the floor exercise gave the Lions a 196.425, their best team score of the season. Illinois, which closed the meet with a 48.925 on the beam, also totaled a season-best score of 196.275. However, it was not enough to top Penn State, which has improved its score in each of its five meets this season.
"Every meet I feel is a confidence builder," senior Casey Rohrbaugh said. "Our score goes up whether it's by a few tenths or by a lot. So that's definitely helping us really believe and be aggressive."
Aside from the floor exercise, the Lions also set season highs on the uneven bars and the balance beam with scores of 49.350 and 49.100, respectively. On the bars, all six Lions scored higher than a 9.825, contributing to a score better than any last season on that event.
Through the first four meets, the vault had been Penn State's best event and though Saturday's vault performance was the worst of the season, Rohrbaugh said the fact the Lions still got their season-best overall score is encouraging.
"We're finally using what we do on vault, and our confidence and team energy, and applying it to other events, and obviously that really helps and its working," she said.
Leading the team in the all-around were two reigning All-Americans, Personett and sophomore Whitney Bencsko. Personett tied her career high in the all-around with a 39.600 and Bencsko set a season high of 39.225.
Penn State coach Steve Shephard said part of the plan is for his team to gradually get better each week and peak in time for the national championship.
Last season, the Lions followed that plan and reached the national championships, where not one gymnast fell. So far this season, the Lions have been following that trend and continue to gain confidence and improve.
"If you start too fast, and demand too much, and push too hard and demand too much in the beginning, you end up running out of gas at the end, and that's the last thing we want," Shephard said. "We want to try and just get a little bit better and a little bit better and then peak at the end for our championship season."