As the old saying goes, “Three’s a crowd”, especially when you consider a trio of Ohio natives at Penn State.
But for head coach Randy Jepson, the more Hocking Valley gymnasts he can get to commit to the Nittany Lions, the better.
Matt Chelburg, Preston Gall, and Trevor Howard have helped the Nittany Lion men’s gymnastics team ascension to No. 1 in the country this season, and all hail from the Hocking Valley Gymnastics team in Lancaster, Ohio.
Two things really stand out to Jepson about those gymnasts.
“They’re all great people. Also, they all have great work ethics. They do what they need to do to be successful. [Those] are learned traits,” said Jepson.
The 21-year veteran coach credits Hocking Valley Gymnastics coach Mike Serra for cultivating an attitude of hard work and maximizing their individual situations, not just in the gym, but in life, as well.
The Hocking Valley coach and owner echoes that same sentiment about Chelburg, Gall, and Howard.
“If there are any characteristics they all shared it would be a work ethic and perseverance,” Serra said. “Each of them had significant hurdles to overcome. I believe the process of overcoming them taught them valuable lessons that led to their successes at Penn State.”
Serra, an Ohio State gymnast in the late 1980s, helped the trio of Nittany Lions find a collegiate gymnastics program that fit them best, without swaying them with his Buckeye allegiance.
“[Serra] was very open on anywhere we wanted to go. He just wanted what was best for where we would fit in. [Serra] said see what’s best for you, and in the end that was [Penn State] for all of us” said Chelburg, who has won the floor exercise titles in two meets this season.
The Hocking Valley-Happy Valley connection started just a few years ago, when Miguel Pineda, a former All-American, committed to the Nittany Lions after competing for Serra’s club.
“Part of the reason I came here is [Pineda],” Chelburg said. “I never considered Penn State until Randy came out and started recruiting him, and that kind of started [the pipeline].”
Even after moving to the collegiate ranks, this trio of Nittany Lion gymnasts still feels the effects of Serra and Hocking Valley’s influence. Gall, who won the pommel horse title in last weekend’s meet with No. 11 William and Mary and No. 12 Temple, said that his former coach instilled life lessons and had a tremendous impact on himself and his fellow club gymnasts.
“Coach Serra pushes you really hard, never takes no as an answer. He really cares about the sport so that gives you the determination and inspiration to do [gymnastics],” said Howard, a four-time Big Ten Freshman of the week.
While Howard no longer competes with his Hocking Valley teammates, he said they still share a common bond.
“[Hocking Gymnastics] is still one family. Even though we may be on different teams, wearing different colors, we still cheer each other on,” Howard said.