This year’s Nittany Lion men’s gymnastics team has the opportunity to leave a mark on Penn State history, including the first undefeated regular season since 2003.
The No. 1 team in the land heads to Minnesota this Saturday to take on the No. 7 Golden Gophers at 6 p.m., with the chance to finish 8-0 in NCAA competitions this year. Saturday will mark the first of two visits the Lions will make to the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis, as they will return April 5 and 6 for the Big Ten Championships.
Members of the team said they envision a great advantage by competing at the same location twice in a three-week span.
“It’s going to be the same set up this weekend and at Big Tens. We’ll know it better than other teams,” said freshman Trevor Howard.
Yet, the advantages are not limited to just the Pavilion’s set-up.
“I think [being at Minnesota twice] is a huge advantage for us in that we’re going to be at the same hotel, drive the same route, and be on the same schedules that we will be for the Big Ten Championship, which will be great,” said coach Randy Jepson. “Just knowing that we’ve been there, [this weekend] is like a practice-run for us.”
Penn State enters Saturday’s meet hitting on all cylinders, as it took five of the six individual event titles in a 437.300-430.400 over then-No. 2 Michigan. Howard, senior Felix Aronovich, and junior Wasef Burbar continued their impressive campaigns with event wins, but the Lions gained yet another strong performer in newcomer Alexis Torres, who came away victorious on the still rings for the first title of his career.
After a slow start to begin the season, in which they lost a trio of meets in a month-long span, the Gophers enter Saturday having won three of their last four competitions.
“I know Minnesota has had a strong, improved run here at the end of the year and they’re getting better and better every week,” Jepson said.
The Gophers, who are coached by Penn State alumnus Mike Burns, will be celebrating their senior night on Saturday, but Aronovich said he does not believe it will make a difference for their chances.
“We’re good enough, that no matter the setup, we’ll beat them,” Aronovich said. “[Minnesota] is a good team, but I don’t think [the emotions of senior night] will be enough for them to [outscore us].”