A week after getting the second highest score in school history, the Penn State women’s gymnastics team will try to accomplish a feat that no team in school history has done by winning a Big Ten championship.
Tomorrow, in East Lansing, Mich., the Nittany Lions compete at 6 p.m. against their conference rivals with the championship at stake.
The Big Ten championship will consist of two sessions. The first will begin at 1:05 p.m. for the teams ranked fifth to eighth: Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State. The second session begins at 6:05 p.m., in which the top four teams in the standings will compete.
As the fourth seed, the Lions will have to outperform three teams ranked higher than them in the standings: Michigan, Nebraska, and Minnesota. The Lions lost to each of these teams in meets during the regular season.
Coach Jeff Thompson recognizes that the competition for this meet will be tough, but is motivated to help his team achieve its goal.
“It’s a chance for revenge on any of them,” he said. “If we beat any of those three teams, then it’s going to be sweet revenge for us.”
Thompson has good reason to feel confident in his team. The Lions won their last four meets and scored more than 196 in each.
Junior Kassidy Stauder said teamwork is the key to Penn State’s success.
“I think we started off the year with great team chemistry,” she said. “It has built so much more traveling together and being out there on the floor. We’re really excited for each other.”
After being named first team All-Big Ten selections, seniors Sharaya Musser and Madison Merriam are poised to close out their final season with the team by winning a Big Ten title.
“It would mean everything to me,” Musser said of winning a title. “It would show all the hard work we’ve been putting in not just for this year, but the past couple of years. We all really want it. This team is a fighting team and very ambitious. I think we have a great shot.”
Thompson says that Musser and Merriam provided strong leadership that has been crucial in the past few weeks.
“Since senior night and the practices we’ve had before we leave, Madi and Sharaya both seemed as relaxed and confident as I’ve ever seen them,” Thompson said. “The fact that they’re broadcasting that calmness and relaxation helps the rest of the team stay relaxed and confident."
While these two seniors prepare for their last Big Ten championship, they’ve made an impact on their younger teammates. Thompson said he saw their leadership qualities in his junior and sophomore gymnasts. Juniors Lindsay Musgrove, Sidney Sanabria-Robles, and Stauder, along with sophomores Lexi Carroll, Krystal Welsh, and Alex Witt are prepared to become the new leaders of the team because of their experience with Merriam and Musser.
This year’s group of freshmen, made up of Taylor Alotta, Alix Faden, Hannah Kobman, Kelsey Kreider, Samantha Musto, and Savannah Soares, will enter their first conference championship.
Alotta said that her relationship with the senior co-captains is helping her prepare for this new experience.
“I don’t even think of the senior class as seniors,” Alotta said. “They’re with everyone all the time. We’re always together. I forget that they’re in different years than I am. It seems like we’re all in the same class. We’re all really close like we’re sisters.”