The crowd in Rec Hall for this Saturday’s men’s gymnastics dual meet will get more than its money’s worth for a regular season matchup.
The No. 1 Nittany Lions will take their perfect record up against the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines at 7 p.m. on Senior Night, adding pressure to an already postseason-like atmosphere.
“[Saturday] is going to be more intense then [any meet] we’ve experienced all season,” team captain Parker Raque said. “[Michigan] will be putting the pressure on us.”
The rare matchup between the top two squads in the nation pits the Lions up against a Wolverines team that is coming off a home loss to No. 3 Oklahoma. Despite resting United States National Team member and the nation’s second best all-around performer, Adrian de los Angeles, Michigan fell by a slim margin, 432.100- 431.250.
The Wolverines boast an impressive core of gymnasts that are ranked in the top-three nationally of various events, including Sam Mikulak and Syque Caesar, who hold the top two spots in the parallel bars.
Despite the accolades and rankings, coach Randy Jepson isn’t concerned about who is on the other side of the mats come Saturday.
“We can’t do anything about who Michigan is,” Jepson said. “The best thing we can do is go out and hit our routines and see what happens.”
Not to be outdone by the Wolverines, several Nittany Lions have won awards on multiple occasions this season. Senior Felix Aronovich, who represented Israel in the 2012 London Olympics, has twice been named National and Big Ten Gymnast of the Week this season.
Freshman Trevor Howard has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week every meet he has competed in this season (6) and also the conference’s top performer for his efforts against No. 5 Ohio State on Feb. 2. Additionally, on three separate occasions this season, Penn State gymnasts have swept the conference’s weekly awards.
With all the hype surrounding Saturday’s meet, Jepson said his team should relish this opportunity before heading to Minnesota next weekend to conclude the regular season slate before the conference championships begin.
“It’s very rare that you get a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup. Athletes look forward to those opportunities,” Jepson said. “I hope the fans pour in and that we have a great crowd, one that will cheer us on to a win.”
Lions prepare for Senior Night
Saturday will be an unusual Senior Night for seven members of the men’s gymnastics team. Historically, these pre-competition recognition ceremonies mark the last time departing seniors set foot on their home floor. Fortunately for them, Penn State will host the NCAA Championships April 19-21.
“It would mean a little bit more if it were the last time competing in Rec Hall, but since we have one more final competition it will be nice,” Raque said.
Despite the unusual circumstances, the captain said it is going to still be a special moment for him and the teammates he’s spent his college years with.
“We all live together. So it’s pretty much a non-stop life with these guys in the gym,” Raque said. “I’ve been with them for four years starting in the dorms and [the seniors] are a great group of guys.”
Jepson was steadfast in complimenting his seniors for their academic success and ability to overcome struggles in their earlier years at Penn State. He said he believes that they have deserved the success the team has come to enjoy this year, but believes greater glory still lies ahead.
“How [the seniors] finish is what we want to see. I hope [Saturday’s meet] propels them into the postseason and they can go out as a group proud of the results,” Jepson said.