Hoping to maintain their momentum after defeating Army last weekend, the Penn State men’s gymnastics team will use the Navy Open this Saturday in Annapolis, Md., as a testing ground for their success the rest of the season.
The No. 4 Nittany Lions will be challenged on the road this weekend after competing at home in their past four events. Although coach Randy Jepson commended the team's performance in its first meet, he also recognized that the Lions will face much stiffer competition soon.
“The Big Ten is very strong, and out west, Oklahoma is, too,” Jepson said. “Teams will really rise to the occasion when the time comes, and we know that.”
The annual Navy Open will also host No. 14 William and Mary, No. 12 Temple, SUNY Brockport and Springfield. The Navy men’s gymnastics team is young, with no seniors, one junior and 12 freshmen. Unlike other teams at the Open, the Navy doesn’t have the advantage of serious competitive experience.
Senior Felix Aronovich said the away meets are challenging because “there isn’t the support that we get at home.”
“But we should compete the same way no matter where we go. We should compete like we train,” Aronovich said.
With four freshmen on the roster, Penn State relies heavily on its more experienced gymnasts to support the younger generation. Gymnasts such as Aronovich, who represented Israel in the 2012 Summer Olympics, have competed at a level that could prepare Penn State well for conference play. With the addition of award-winning freshmen, the program hopes to fare better in NCAA than the third place showing from last year’s NCAA Championships.
Two weeks from now, the Lions will compete in Las Vegas for the Winter Cup. Freshman Trevor Howard, battling a sore leg, is a major asset to the floor routine and hopes to be back in full form before the Cup. The gymnasts' performance at the Cup will determine who will make the U.S. Men's Senior National Team that will compete in the 2013 U.S. Championships in Hartford, Conn.
Howard said he is optimistic about the upcoming tournament.
“I’m recovering from my knee right now, but I should be back before Winter Cup,” Howard said. “Which is when I will hopefully make the national team.”
Later in the season, the team will compete against Michigan and will have to face the likes of Olympian Sam Mikulak. Howard and Mikulak, who are both known for their floor routines, will face off in mid-March.
Jepson is optimistic about the future, but recognizes that there is room for improvement.
“What we need to is refine and continue to grow in confidence,” he said. “There’s a lot of season left, so we have to stay healthy and focused.”