Penn State

Men’s gymnastics: Penn State in strong contention after opening night of NCAA meet

There’s nothing like the comforts of home.

It certainly works for the Penn State men’s gymnastics team.

The top-ranked Nittany Lions turned in the best score during the evening session of competition and heads to Saturday night’s team finals in good shape at the NCAA Championships at Rec Hall.

“It’s fun, man. They’re a pretty good crowd,” said senior Felix Aronovich, who turned in the top score on the parallel bars during the evening session.

Penn State will chase its 13th national championship in the team and all-around finals beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Rec Hall.

“We’re pleased to be able to advance. That was the goal for today,” Nittany Lion coach Randy Jepson said. “We will recover and come to do battle tomorrow.”

Penn State turned in a team total of 436.900 points to take the evening session of six teams. Stanford was right behind with 435.850 and Iowa was third at 426.550, with all three advancing to Saturday’s finals.

Michigan turned in the day’s top score, posting a 443.850 total during the afternoon session, to lead the other three advancing teams. Oklahoma and defending champion Illinois also will compete in Saturday’s finals.

The Nittany Lions won three events and had at least one competitor in the top two in five of six events to help put the team at the top.

The highlight apparatus was the high bar, on which Penn State had the top three scores and four of the top six. Wasef Burbar posted the top score at 15.200, with Mackenzie Dow next at 14.750 and Matthew Felleman tied for third at 14.600. Tony Beck was sixth at 14.500.

The Nittany Lions also held the top two spots on the parallel bars, led by Aronovich’s 15.050 and followed by Trevor Howard’s 14.900.

Howard, a freshman, also was second on the floor exercise with a score of 15.250 and tied for second on the still rings with a 15.300.

The other Nittany Lion event win came from Craig Hernandez with his 15.400 score on the pommel horse.

“Pretty much just go up there and hit it like I know I can,” Hernandez said of his first-place performance. “I have been doing it in practice for a long time and I go out there and compete and do the best that I can do and I did well today.”

Other event winners were Stanford’s Eddie Penev with a 15.500 on the floor exercise, California’s Steven Lacombe with the same score on the rings, and Penev and Ohio State’s Jeff Treleaven at 15.000 on the vault.

The individual event championships will be held Sunday afternoon. Friday’s scores will not count toward the individual event finals.

The teams competed with a new scoring system this spring. Each apparatus had five competitors per team, and all five scores counted to add to the pressure of the moment. In the past, teams had six competitors per event and the top four scores counted, so falls or major miscues could be brushed aside.

Jepson did not like seeing athletes lose chances at competition.

“That concerns me, but it is exciting,” Jepson said. “Everything is on the line. There are pluses and minuses, but it is unfortunate for the guys that didn’t get to compete.”

Michigan coach Kurt Golder also didn’t think the new format wasn’t perfect.

“I like that everything counts,” Golder said. “What I don’t like about it is a guy who competes really hard and could maybe be an All-American, but because his team is so good he doesn’t get an opportunity to compete. That five-up, five-count denies opportunities.”

The Wolverines were paced in the afternoon session by Adrian de los Angeles, who was more than two points better than everyone else in the all-around competition, and Sam Mikulak, a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.

Penn State beat Michigan when the teams met in a dual meet earlier in the year, but the Wolverines got the best of the Nittany Lions at the Big Ten Championships a few weeks ago.

Penn State does not have anyone competing for the all-around title, but the Nittany Lions are glad to have the home-floor advantage.

“It was great,” Jepson said of the crowd. “They were very responsive and we are looking forward to tomorrow night. Anything can happen so we will be prepared to go.”