With the NCAA regional meets coming up this weekend for the womens' gymnastics teams, I figured I would try to use my current hockey downtime to help enlighten the BSD readership about some of the other very successful teams on campus. How does a hockey guy make the shift so quickly to gymnastics? Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, the world may never know. Also, before going further, I want to thank the Penn State Women's Gymnastics Facebook page for providing the pictures and other updates.
For the uninitiated: I'll do a separate post for the men's gymnastics team when they get closer to the NCAA Championships, and as you will see, they have a different rotation of events and different expectations of the athletes. On the women's side, there are four events that ladies compete in: Vault (V), Uneven Bars (UB), Balance Beam (BB), and Floor Exercise (FX). Any girl who competes on all 4 events gets put into the all-around (AA) category. Most quality teams have at least two top tier AA competitors, a couple of competitors that are strong on 2 or 3 events, one or two high-scoring event specialists (girls who excel on one event), and a handful of girls who are solid event specialists to round out the competition.
Scoring at the collegiate level is still done on the 10.0 scale, with judges scoring the events based on difficulty of the routine and how clean the routine is completed. The two judges scores are averaged together for the final score. (In the case of 4 judges, the high and low scores are thrown out, and the middle two are used for scoring.) On each event, six gymnasts compete and are scored, with the top five scores being added together to come to a final event score. The total team scores on each event are then added up to determine the final team score for the meet. At this point, teams are shooting for at least a 49.000 on each event (an average of 9.8 for each gymnast), and at least a 196.000 overall score. For perspective, the top two teams (Florida and Alabama) currently average above a 197.000, and the teams 3-12 average above 196.000. Penn State is ranked #11, averaging 196.210 with a season-high score of 197.075. And now, onto the girls who make those scores possible!
All-Around: (The major role players and girls who are regularly used for all four events.)
As with any story, it's best to start from the top. And when it comes to Sharaya Musser, she is at the top of the mountain, currently standing as the #1 All-Around Gymnast in college gymnastics this year. Her season-high AA score of 39.725 (on 3/4 vs. Maryland and NC State) is the highest AA score in the nation this season. On the individual events, she ranks 4th on vault, 26th on the uneven bars, 4th on the beam, and 8th on floor exercise. To relate it to another Penn State sport, Sharaya has somehow made us forget a bit about the great 4 years of Brandi Personett, much like Talor Battle made us forget about Geary Claxton. Oh, and did I mention Miss Musser is only a sophomore? So Penn State fans will still have two more years to watch one of the most talented gymnasts in college today.
Not far behind Sharaya is yet another sophomore superstar in Madison Merriam. While not as strong across the board, Madison is still averaging 39.165 in the all-around this season, with a season-high score of 39.475. When it comes down to it, she finds a way to get it done, and at times has actually surpassed Sharaya in the all-around at meets this season. Her 39.275 AA score at the Big Ten Championships was good enough to tie for 2nd place at the meet. When going against some of the top teams in the nation, a 1-2 punch is a necessity. And it's a 1-2 punch Penn State will enjoy for two more seasons.
The third all-around gymnast is junior Whitney Bencsko. After dealing with a knee injury that took her out for most of last season, and set her back for part of this year, Whitney has come on strong as a solid third AA option for Penn State. Consistency is her biggest issue at this point. Her upside is great, and on the right day, she can hang with Sharaya and Madison all the way through. But on those down days, she can really take a hit. It's still a bit of a growing and re-healing process for Whit, as she continues to get used to going through all 4 events. But she's a strong competitor that will play a huge role in the team's success this year and next.
Major Contributors: (Girls who have regular appearances on multiple events.)
Just one event away from being in the all-around group, senior Danielle Hover has used her experience and ability to become a major role player on an otherwise very young squad. Missing out of floor, Danielle competes regularly on vault, bars, and beam. While her vault score leaves something to be desired, she is a strong and consistent scorer on two of the more technically-difficult events in bars and beam. Not only consistent, she usually leads off each of those two events, setting the stage and tone for the rest of team.
Although she only competes on two events, junior Daryl Konsevick makes sure her routines count. Her consistent scoring on floor is only outdone by her top notch performances on the balance beam. Even at half the events of the all-around competitors, Daryl has become one of the most important cogs of the success of this Penn State team.
Even though she technically belongs in the next category of "event specialists", Natalie Ettl is way too important to the team to put elsewhere. From Waukesha, WI (which isn't far from Milwaukee), Nat sits as the #3 gymnast on the uneven bars, and at a season average of 9.920, she is only 0.005 points behind the leaders. Her season high of 9.975 is mere proof of the high scoring capabilities she has on a very difficult apparatus. Her ability to be the anchor on bars has helped draw the rest of the Penn State gymnasts up a level to make it one of the best events for the Nittany Lions this season.
The first of five freshman on the team, Lindsay Musgrove has found herself as a regular on the vault and floor exercise. Although she's not a top scorer, Lindsay has put up good scores and done it consistently. Even though she's just a freshman, she plays a huge role in making sure the team scores reach the 49's on the two events in which she competes.
Another freshman, Cassidy Bogar has picked up a spot as a regular on beam and floor. While not a leader, she is consistent and consistently getting better. Again, she's just a freshman and has sort of been thrust into the role due to a late-season injury to another gymnast. Undoubtedly, this experience as a freshman will help her continue to grow into an important part of the Nittany Lions' future.
Those are the major role players on the team. In my next part (just because I don't want this post to get too large), I'll go over the remaining regulars, the alternates, and an analysis of the regional meet at Alabama.