Men's gymnastics second in qualifier; will vie for national title

University Park, Pa. —The Penn State men's gymnastics team posted a score of 357.300 to place second in the first qualifying session of the 2008 National Collegiate Championships on Thursday afternoon in Maples Pavilion on the host campus of Stanford University. With the top three teams advancing from the session, the Nittany Lions have earned the opportunity to defend its 2007 title and vie for the program's NCAA-record 13th national championship on Friday evening.

"Mediocre," responded Penn State head coach Randy Jepson when asked to assess his team's performance Thursday. "We had a sloppy start and kind of hung on for a little while and then we got things going. We can certainly be better tomorrow, as can everyone in the field. It's going to take that kind of effort. It's nice to know we qualified and didn't hit out of our minds, but you want to ready on the last day; that's when it counts."

The 2008 Big Ten Champion Nittany Lions were edged by 2008 MPSF title-winners Oklahoma by .2 of a point for the top spot in the session. Michigan (354.300) also qualified for the team finals, outdueling Big Ten rival Ohio State (351.800) for the third berth. Junior Casey Sandy dominated the all-around, claiming first with a total score of 90.150, outdistancing Ohio State's Jake Bateman by nearly four points.

As it did at last year's national championships, still rings proved to be a deciding factor in Penn State's fortunes. A season high team score of 61.950 was a key to the Nittany Lions advancing. Derek Helsby (Orlando, Fla.), Vladi Klurman (North Miami Beach, Fla.), Casey Sandy, and Tommy Ramos (Guaynabo, P.R.) either tied or bested a personal season high en route to the record team score.

"They were very clean," said Coach Jepson of his rings performers. "We point to be strongest at this meet and that seem to show today. But today doesn't count. It got us in but you really want to be at your strongest tomorrow. It takes a little endurance and we were able to do that last year, but it's a different team and a different year."

Penn State got off to a slow start in the first rotation, scoring a 57.900 in the parallel bars, its lowest team total in the event since recording a 57.800 at Illinois on Feb. 16. Casey Sandy led Penn State with a 15.000, good enough for a share of second place in the session. Senior Tommy Ramos contributed a 14.600, placing eighth.

The Nittany Lions' had an up and down showing on the high bar in the next rotation. Nissen-Emery Award finalist Derek Helsby (14.550, 4th) and Casey Sandy (14.500, 5th) gave solid performances while sophomore Nick Virbitsky (Harrisburg, Pa.) (14.300) and senior Santiago Lopez (Cibola del Mar, Mex.) (14.100) either tied or neared season personal bests. However, struggles by two of Penn State's most consistent competitors, Tommy Ramos and Noam Shaham (Kfar Saba, Israel) resulted in a subpar team total of 57.450.

In the rotation three, Penn State rebounded strongly with a stellar performance in the floor exercise. Casey Sandy (15.500), Santiago Lopez (15.400), and freshman Warren Yang (Nepean, Ont.) (15.200) contributed top 10 efforts to lead the Nittany Lions.

After a bye, the Nittany Lions rotated to the pommel horse, where senior Brad Spicer (Fairfax, Va.) scored a team high 14.300 to place fourth overall in the event, helping PSU win the event. Jason Chu (Los Angeles, Calif.), Derek Helsby, and Casey Sandy all recorded scores of 14.050 to tie for sixth place.

Following its record-setting effort in the rings, Penn State would finish on the vault with a chance to overtake Oklahoma and place first in the session. Casey Sandy and sophomore Allen Harris (Lancaster, Pa.) earned identical 15.700 scores from the judges but it would not be enough and the Lions came up just short of the top spot.

The 2008 National Collegiate Men's Gymnastics Championships will continue on Fri., April 18 at 10 p.m. ET with the team and all-around finals. Performers that place in the top 10 in each event during the team finals competition advance to the individual event finals, set for Sat., April 19 at 10 p.m. ET.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010