After Penn State’s first meet of the season, head coach Jeff Thompson couldn’t help but admit there were some “first-time jitters” for his team.
For a squad of 14 that features six freshmen, jitters might not be any real surprise, especially for Samantha Musto and Alix Faden, who made their first collegiate appearances in Denver.
Besides Musto and Faden, sophomores Lexi Carroll and Alex Witt also competed for their first times on the balance beam and uneven bars, respectively, adding more firsts for members of the team.
With a host of gymnasts making their way into uncharted territories, Thompson and the team have begun to rely on seniors Madison Merriam and Sharaya Musser for leadership.
“The two seniors did a great job,” Thompson said after the team’s first meet. “We’ll be relying on them throughout the year.”
Thompson also commended the performance of the team’s veterans, calling them “brilliant.”
“Both Sharaya and I have been doing the all-around since freshman year so I think that helps us calm the younger girls down,” Merriam said on how she helped relax other gymnasts.
The freshmen felt the influence of having the two seniors on the team on Saturday who told them to have a good time at the meet.
“They’re really supportive in terms of guiding and keeping us calm before we compete,” freshman Taylor Alotta said. “They take off the pressure and remind us that we’re here to have fun.”
However, Merriam’s recommendations went further than having a good time to relieve the pressure of the freshmen.
“We really want them to know they’re not expected to do better or try any harder than they do in the gym,” the Maryland native said.
The calming influence paid off as Penn State took second at the meet in Denver and Musto won Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
“The freshmen did great for their first meet and got off to a really good start,” Thompson said.