Before the 2010 season began, Steve Shephard was hoping Madison Merriam and Sharaya Musser would perform in the all-around.
Now, Shephard needs them to.
With the potential season-ending injury to Whitney Bencsko, the Penn State women's gymnastics team is counting on the freshman pair of Merriam and Musser to help make up for the loss of the sophomore All-American.
"It's a great opportunity for them to be important, critical parts to the team," Shephard said. "They were before, and they're even more so now."
As the No. 17 Nittany Lions get ready to host Big Ten rival, No. 12 Michigan, along with Maryland and Bridgeport, Shephard is counting on the all-around performances from both Merriam and Musser.
That wasn't the case in early January, however. Prior to the start of the season, Shephard was planning on his stars Brandi Personett and Bencsko and newcomers Merriam and Musser to provide routines in all four events. Through 14 meets combined between Merriam and Musser, though, they had just one all-around performance between the two of them, and even that one was unplanned.
A preseason foot injury to Musser put to rest any chance of her competing in the all-around to start the year.
Musser debuted on the all-around in the second meet of the season, but only because Merriam was sick and couldn't perform the floor exercise. Floor was the one event in which Musser's endurance -- and, more importantly, confidence -- was lacking, and she finished the all-around with a 37.900.
This past weekend at Ohio State, though, Musser competed in the all-around and was a completely different gymnast, especially on floor.
"I was definitely a lot more prepared mentally and physically," Musser said of last weekend's 39.150 in the all-around. "For Denver, I just wasn't ready to do a floor routine.
"I'm definitely so much more confident now. I actually believe in myself that I can hit a floor routine, and I proved that this last weekend."
Merriam barely cracked the lineup through the first three meets of the year.
In those meets, she competed in a total of two events, though she performed exhibition routines a few times. As Merriam got more comfortable, though, she found herself in the bars and floor lineups. Struggles on beam, but mostly on vault, were still keeping her out of the all-around lineup.
But timing was everything for Merriam. When her team needed her most this weekend as a sub for Bencsko, who got hurt on the first event of the night, Merriam performed her best vault as a Lion, scoring a 9.850 and competing in the all-around.
"The timing for her to step it up to the forefront is great," Shephard said. "It's serendipitous that she's figuring it out right now. She was struggling with it before. Right now is when we really need her."
Bencsko's 38.664 average in the all-around ranks 10th in the Big Ten, but she doesn't think there will be much of a drop-off from her production to that of Merriam and Musser.
Bencsko is confident they won't have a problem picking up the extra slack left by her absence.
"You have to prove yourself every day and you have to work for your spot," Bencsko said. "I think that they've definitely figured that out. They're rising up and they've been contributing great scores."