When the No. 18 Penn State women's gymnastics team steps out onto the floor at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, the crowd will be unlike anything the Nittany Lions have ever seen.
This season, an average of more than 13,000 fans have gathered to watch No. 9 Utah, and that crowd may be even larger when No. 8 Oregon State and No. 21 Southern Utah join Penn State in a quad-meet Friday starting at 9 p.m. eastern time.
The Utes, who garnered an NCAA record crowd of 15,552 against Georgia on Jan. 22, are used to these conditions. The Lions are not. Penn State has not competed at Utah in the regular season since 1996, when they scored a mere 193.625 in a loss.
Penn State coach Steve Shephard said he told his squad not to make a big deal of the number of people in the stands, though he said there is not any substitute for actually competing in front of a crowd such as Utah's. Regardless of the crowd, however, the routines the Lions have performed all season are still going to work, the coach said.
The Lions are fresh off a 196.725 -- their best since March 16, 2007 -- after beating Michigan Sunday at Rec Hall. Shephard said his team is ready to get back out and compete again after the great meet.
"I think it's extremely important that we not be distracted by the externals associated with the meet," Shephard said. "The girls all know that they have a job to do, and the way they're gonna accomplish their goals is by focusing on the process, not on all the external variables that we have no control over."
The crowd isn't the only external variable in this meet. The Lions will compete against three other ranked teams, including Utah, who is one of four schools to win a national championship since 1982, with 10 titles.
Penn State senior Brandi Personett, who competed at Utah as an individual in nationals as a freshman, said after Sunday's meet that Friday will be a great opportunity for the Lions to move up in the rankings as they are competing against such great competition.
Though the two teams have not met in the regular season since 1997, Megan Marsden is familiar with Penn State gymnastics. The Utes' co-head coach remembers when she was a Utah freshman, and the No. 2 Lions hosted No. 1 Utah in what she called a very heated contest.
"Always, Penn State has had a great program, and of late with Brandi Personett on their team, they've really had a presence even more so lately," Marsden said. "And we know that they're gonna be a team to contend with Friday night. No question about it."