Gymnast Craig Hernandez has already broken the school record on pommel horse. Twice.
Men’s gymnastics is one of the most storied programs at Penn State, compiling 12 team and over 50 individual national championships. Despite only being a sophomore, Hernandez has etched his name among the great Nittany Lion gymnasts early in his collegiate career.
Last weekend at the Navy Open, the Libertyville, Ill. native scored a 15.750 in his routine, topping his previous record, which he set at last year’s NCAA Championships. For his efforts, Hernandez was named All-American in the event.
“I never went out there trying to break my own record. I just wanted to go out there and do my best,” said Hernandez, who did not realize he had rewritten the school record books when his score was announced.
The sophomore has helped the Lions in more than just the pommel horse. Last year, Hernandez ranked second on the team in the floor exercise and also qualified for the finals of the event at the NCAAs.
Formerly a member of the United States junior national team, Hernandez came to Penn State with an already impressive gymnastics pedigree, having won three Junior Olympic championships in pommel horse. He said that experience has helped him adjust to collegiate gymnastics.
“[In Junior Olympics] you compete almost every week, which helps you once you get to college and compete more frequently. It also gives you valuable experience being on a big stage competing in front of people,” he said.
Experience competing in high-profile events has paid off for Hernandez. Prior to last weekend’s meet, his personal bests in the floor exercise and pommel horse were set at last April’s NCAA Championships.
Hernandez is off to an impressive start this year, with his average pommel horse score ranking second in the country.
Lions using time off to recover
The No. 1 Lions have no meet this weekend before hosting a dual meet with the women’s team versus Ohio State on Feb. 2. While the team will have to regain its momentum from its two season-opening wins, there are benefits of having time off.
Coach Randy Jepson said there are several members on the squad that are nursing injuries or recovering from surgery. The break also gives the Lions time to prepare for an important stretch of their season. Ohio State is currently ranked No. 5 in the country and members of the team will be traveling to Las Vegas to compete in Winter Cup on Feb. 7 and 9.