When junior Sharaya Musser looks down the vault runway at nationals, her teammates won’t be there at her back — they’ll be more than 700 miles away in State College.
Musser, of the Penn State women’s gymnastics team, is in Duluth, Ga. this weekend to compete in the 2012 NCAA National Championships as an individual gymnast.
Musser scored 39.450 at regionals to qualify for nationals but her team finished only fourth, needing a second place finish to qualify.
For Musser, who is the No. 2-ranked gymnast in the country in the all-around, it will be the third time in her three years of collegiate competition she heads to nationals without her team.
The talented gymnast said it’s difficult having to compete without the teammates she’s used to performing alongside.
“It’s a lot different [without your team there],” Musser said. “I definitely have a different mindset. It’s tough not having the support of all my teammates there.”
Musser won’t be alone at nationals, however, as coach Jeff Thompson, the team’s other coaches, several alumni of the team and Musser’s parents and grandparents will travel with the No. 2-ranked gymnasts to Georgia to watch her compete.
Despite the efforts of her travelling supporters, it won’t be quite the level of reinforcement Musser would have wanted, Thompson said.
“I know she wishes that her team was going. That would make it more special,” Thompson said. “Three years of going by yourself, knowing that it’s just you with your coaches, it’s not as exciting as going and competing for a team championship.”
Musser’s teammates have been trying to help her from home, even though their own seasons are over. Several of the junior’s teammates came to her practices in the White Building just to lend their support before Musser departed for Georgia on Wednesday.
“Since the season is over for 99 percent of the team, it is good to have that support around you,” senior Daryl Konsevick said at Musser’s practice on Friday. “Still be there and come in like nothing is changed, and I think that’s what she needs. She can do anything by herself, anything on her own, but seeing her teammates is there, coming in just for her, is great.”
But this weekend, Musser will have to compete as an individual — although she won’t perform alone. The gymnast will rotate with No. 1 Florida due to the structure of the national competition.
That could prove to be an advantage for Musser, who said she knows some of the gymnasts on that team.
“I’m sure it will be nice and they’ll help support me,” Musser said, of Florida. “In the past years, the teams that I rotated with have been awesome as far as supporting me and kind of being there as my other teammates.”
That trend of support appears likely to continue, as Florida’s coaches reached out to Musser immediately after hearing their team would rotate with her.
Thompson, who is in his second year at Penn State after coaching at Auburn for 11 seasons, said he expects Florida to welcome Musser with open arms.
“Having come from the SEC, I’ve known the Florida coaches for a long time. Right away they emailed and texted, and they know her bar settings and they know the things that she needs,” Thompson said. “So I really feel like she’s going to fit in and really feel like she’s a part of their team during [today]’s warmup and Friday’s competition.”
Musser also holds one further advantage that could bode well for her in her bid to place among the nation’s best this weekend — experience.
She’s been to nationals as an individual twice before, and expects to perform better than ever this time around.
“I definitely know how to prepare, and I know what to expect,” Musser said.