After catching fire in the last few meets, the Penn State women’s gymnastics team took its performance to the next level Saturday night.
In the last regular season meet this year, the No. 16 Nittany Lions put up their season-high score in their 197.325 to 196.775 win over No. 19 Kentucky in Rec Hall.
In addition to recording its season-high score, Penn State achieved the second-highest score in school history.
“I’m proud of the girls,” coach Jeff Thompson said. “They’ve really come together. This is the most fun I’ve ever had with the team.”
The Lions also set several individual high scores. Senior Madison Merriam matched her season-high, as well as the team’s season-high, on vault as she scored a 9.950. Senior Sharaya Musser broke the team’s season-high score on balance beam as she topped her previous best of 9.925 with a score of 9.950.
Musser and Merriam also matched the team’s season-high score on floor, as they scored a 9.925. They equaled their own season-high scores on this event, a season record they share with sophomore Lexi Carroll.
The fact that Saturday night’s meet was Senior Night, the final time Merriam and Musser would compete in Rec Hall, added to the emotional value of this victory.
“In the back of my head, I was taking in every moment,” Musser said. “I was really enjoying it. It was one of the most fun, incredible meets I’ve had in a long time. It was incredible.”
Merriam said she hasn’t fully let the fact that this was her last home meet sink in.
“I’m feeling so overwhelmed and happy,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more tonight. I loved every second of it.”
Both seniors said they gained a lot from being on Penn State’s gymnastics team.
“I’m a fighter,” Merriam said. “I won’t let down. I’m a hard worker. These are all things I have been taught from gymnastics. I know they will help me in my life after Penn State.”
Musser felt that she also gained many valuable things from being a part of the team.
“It’s taught me to be disciplined and responsible,” she said. “It’s taught me to work on a team. What I’ve gone through right now is definitely going to set me up for the rest of my life.”
Thompson has full confidence that Merriam and Musser’s leadership is guiding the team in the right direction.
“We’re going to ride their coattails for the rest of the season,” he said. “I think it’s really going to take us great places.”
One place where Thompson will need the leadership of his seniors most is East Lansing, Mich., where his team will compete in the Big Ten championship on March 23.
Merriam said that the Lions owe much of their recent success to the growth of this relatively young team throughout the season, which has scored higher than 196 in each of its last four meets..
She said, “There’s been a fire inside of us all.”
Thompson is confident that his team can emerge victorious in the tournament as long as it performs at its best level. He felt that Saturday night’s record-setting meet was pivotal in getting his team ready for the conference championship.
While the Lions put up high scores in recent weeks, they failed to get over the 197 mark until Saturday night. Now that the team has achieved this goal, Thompson believes it’s capable of defeating any team in the Big Ten.
“Getting over 197 tells the girls that they’re in the ball game,” he said. “It lets the other teams know that they should be worried about Penn State.”