Amani Herring competes on beam for Penn State.

LIVE BLOG: No. 34 Rutgers at No. 26 Penn State

This is quietly a fascinating matchup. Penn State has the edge in consistency, but Rutgers owns the higher top number, one just shy of its program-best. The Scarlet Knights are on a roll, putting up a 196.375 at home last week versus Illinois. It was almost enough to top the Illini. One more 9.8-level number on bars is Rutgers’ ticket to move the needle even further.

Penn State has held consistently around the mid-195 mark, the exception being a 196.000 at home. That meet featured some major mistakes—though none that counted—so the Nittany Lions are still well back from their potential. That’s especially true considering that two of their top performers are freshmen. Amani Herring as proven to be a top beamer, and Ava Piedrahita is a solid all-arounder.

For Rutgers, Elia Aird has emerged as a leader in her junior season, and Emily Leese continues to shine on vault and floor.

Program record numbers to watch for Rutgers include a 196.400 total and a 39.500 in the all-around.

The Nittany Lions are debuting this funky and fun leo tonight.

We’ve got Olivia Karas and Dean Linke on the call. It’s so nice that the conference has leaned into this duo for its premier meets on BTN’s main property. Karas has become an accomplished commentator over the past few years, and her championing of Big Ten gymnastics top to bottom is delightful.

ROTATION 1: Penn State vault, Rutgers bars

Vihrova (PSU): FHS pike, great distance, medium step forward, maybe in the .15 range. 9.725

Zieden-Weber (RU): Tkatchev, little low. Toe hand to bail hand, maybe a touch short. College stick on her blind full double tuck; really late on the full. 9.65

Johnston (PSU): Yfull, hip angle throughout, small hop back. 9.8

Lorrente-Garcia (RU): Maloney, just had too much juice and flew backward, fall. Recovers with a Pak. DLO hop back.

Herring (PSU): Yfull, great block! Low chest and a hop back. 9.8

Ortiz (RU): Some pressure now after the fall, especially in a double meet weekend when Umme Salim-Beasley is stress-testing her depth routines. Blind to pike Jaeger, good form. Bail hand, still clean. Blind full double tuck, college stick. Judges can take a hop on the landing, and some form errors on the full. Great recovery after a fall! 9.775

Salcedo (PSU): Omelianchik, legs apart on the table, step forward. 9.8

Aird (RU): Short handstand. Blind lat to big piked Jaeger, good form. Clear hip hand to bail hand, really nice body positions. DLO piked it around and a step forward. 9.775

Johanson (PSU): Yfull, some arm bends on the table, medium step back and onto the directional lines. 9.775

Joyner (RU): Rutgers just can’t break into the 9.8s here, if anyone can get it there it’s Joyner. Judges are a little slow pokey here. Blind leg sep to Jaeger, clean. Good bail hand. DLO holds the stick, huge grin on her face. There we go! 9.8

Piedrahita (PSU): Omelianchik, big hop forward. 9.8

Balser (RU): Blind to Jaeger, some foot form. Pak, leg sep. Nice low bar half pirouette. DLO, steps back into the salute. 9.775

Bladon (PSU, ex.): Yfull, leg sep on the table, low and piked throughout, step forward.

Bertola (RU, ex.): Short handstand to Ray. Pak, leg sep. Another short handstand. Blind full double tuck to a hop. Just a touch labored throughout.

AFTER 1: Penn State 48.975, RU 48.775

Probably not the opening rotation either team was looking for. Penn State gave away a lot of tenths on landings, which held the number back. Rutgers recovered really well from the early fall, but small form issues in handstands and bails kept everyone but Hannah Joyner from breaking 9.8.

This is still anyone’s meet. Both teams are looking for a first Big Ten win, which will matter when it comes to seeding the conference championship.

ROTATION 2: Penn State bars, Rutgers vault

Jones (RU): Yfull, very high, pike down and two hops on the landing. 9.625

Johanson (PSU): Great handstand. Toe hand to Tkatchev, little low and not a ton of turnover. Pak with leg sep. Good half pirouette. DLO, step back. Good rhythm in that one. 9.8

Lorente-Garcia (RU): Yfull, great distance but a little low, soft knees throughout, big step over the directional line. 9.575

Johnston (PSU): Maloney to bail hand, arched a bit. Short last handstand. Blind full double tuck cowboyed but not too much, stuck. 9.825

Pagliaro (RU): Yfull, off to the side and a hop back. 9.725

Vihrova (PSU): Blind to nice Jaeger, some bend arms on the catch. Short handstand to bail hand. Blind full bit late to double tuck true stick. Nittany Lions left the hoppiness on vault! 9.825

Joyner (RU): Yfull, piked down and a big hop back. 9.775

Mace (PSU): Toe hand to Maloney, leg sep on the catch. Pak, really wide legs. Short handstand. DLO, shuffles backward. Her first 2023 routine! 9.7

Aird (RU): Huge Yfull, big step back. 9.775. Given the size of the step, the judges LOVED that one in the air. Me too!

Piedrahita (PSU): Short handstand. Clear hip hand to Malone. Nice Pak. Half was clean. FTDT, step back. 9.875

Leese (RU): Y1.5, soft knees, her weight was a little forward on the landing but she held her feet still. 9.9.

Rushlow (PSU): Blind to Jaeger, lovely!, immediate bail. Clean so far. Full-out, true stick. Wow. 9.95, yes ma’am!

AFTER 2: Penn State 98.250, Rutgers 97.575

Now we’re cookin’. Leese and Rushlow both clearly had the best routines on either event for the night, and those scores felt just about right. The early lineup routines were largely strong for Penn State, with a lot of very solid single bar releases. Rutgers has some fulls that get a little chaotic: Either rushed, or just a little out of control. Those are fixable errors, though, and this is a solid halfway number. The Scarlet Knights can be amazing on floor, so they have a chance to make up some ground in the third rotation.

ROTATION 3: Penn State beam, Rutgers floor

Piedrahita (PSU): You love to see a freshman leading off beam. Bhs loso, turns at the hip but pulls it back quickly. Cat to side aerial, clean there. Switch to tuck 3/4, dropped her chest and a low back leg on the switch. RO 3/2, step forward. Good start to the lineup. 9.725

Zannella (RU): Double tuck, goes for the stick, just slides one foot. RO whip to 2/1, small hop forward. Switch ring to switch ring half, so difficult, missed the position a little on the half. Ah, sat her combo pass. 9.1

Salcedo (PSU): Back on beam for the first time this year! Bhs loso, totally solid. Punch front, maybe took a step but covered it really well with a step into chroeo. Nice wolf jump. Split to straddle 3/4, no deductions there. Front 1/1 true stick. Welcome back to beam!!! 9.875

Pagliaro (RU): Double pike, excellent landing, really sold the lunge too. FHS front lay front full, back on her heels on the landing, but stayed up. Switch half wolf full wolf full, imprecise on those positions. FHS rudi, solid landing there, slid back a bit. 9.65

Linke just called out the PSU and RU SIDs! I’ve worked with both of them recently and can confirm that they are extremely helpful and kind. We <3 SIDs at CGN.

Gibble (PSU): Front aerial to split, wow great on both. She’s a very serious beam worker. Think that OU finish in her movements. Bhs loso, soft knees. Cat. to switch side, good. Cartwheel 3/2, true stick. WOW these Nittany Lion landings are on fire. 9.85

Wood (RU): FHS rudi loso, little off balance on the landing and swings her arms. Karas and I both think she stayed in bounds. Switch full split full good. Bailed out of her front 2/1, stopped at a rudi and bounced out of it, heel OOB. She might lose some start value there, could’ve been relying on bonus there. 9.525

Rushlow (PSU): Beat to Split 3/4, wow completely solid. Her carriage is really nice. Bhs loso, again, so solid. Cat to side aerial, small check. RO 3/2, hop forward. 9.8

Aird (RU): Pressure is really on now, after two major mistakes. Double pike, steps forward, seemed like more that she wasn’t ready for the floor than an underrotation issue, which is good score-wise. Clean leaps. Front lay front full, great there. Double tuck, low chest. She looks a little gassed, which, fair, when you’re doing AA on a major travel and double meet weekend. 9.725

Herring (PSU): Front toss, balance check. Repeats to bhs, much better the second time. Side somi, good. Hitch to switch side, solid. Tuck front 1/1, hop. 9.8

Joyner (RU): I love that her starting pose is just laying on the floor. Double pike, bounces back pretty far, stays in bounds. Split full, maybe overrotated it? Which you don’t usually see. FHS front 1/1 front lay, really had to pull the lay around, low and arched, but stuck. Switch side to Popa, great 180s. RO 3/2 front pike. 9.725

Johnston (PSU): Bhs loso, really solid. Split to sheep, maybe a little short of. a true head release, hard to see from the angle. Good side aerial. Hop forward on her 3/2 dismount. 9.825

Leese (RU): Full-in, great landing, some leg sep in the twist. Switch side split full to Shushunova, great there. She has this smirk throughout the routine and it works for her. Front through double tuck, slid her front foot the smallest bit. 9.85

Jones (RU, ex.): Double pike, has way too much juice and takes several steps backward to a fall OOB. Front lay rudi, great there. Little lacking definition in her leap series shapes. RO 3/2 front lay, nice there too.

AFTER 3: Penn State 147.400, Rutgers 146.050

Wow, this Penn State beam team has such a different look than in previous seasons. It’s so impressive, and it comes both from returning athletes and newcomers. Just a full turnaround on an event that really held the Nittany Lions back from their potential for a few years. Rutgers struggled on floor; the long weekend showed. Leese was a bright spot, and now beam becomes about damage control and putting up a decent road number.

ROTATION 4: Penn State floor, Rutgers beam

Looks like Aird has a tender ankle after floor, so she’ll skip beam for now and we’ll see Jacqueline Manifold in her stead.

Battavio (RU): Bhs loso, piked up her front foot but put it right back down, it was like two inches up tops. Good on her jump series, Karas thinking she was short on her split full, I don’t disagree. Check on side aerial. Tucked front full, just picked a foot up. 9.775

Rushlow (PSU): HUGE double tuck, a great set on that, hop back. Switch ring switch full wolf full, great amplitude. She gets UP. RO 3/2 front lay, slight helicopter legs. FHS rudi, soft knees. 9.775

Pagliaro (RU): Switch to switch half, check, then beat jump. Bhs loso, check there too. Front gainer full off the side, stuck. 9.6

Johnston (PSU): Double pike, low in the landing, hops forward. Switch ring to split full split full, just a little unsure on the landing. FHS rudi, good landing. RO 3/2 front lay, little low on the lay but not terribly so, keeps a good body position. 9.725

Manifold (RU): If there’s one event where it is nerve-wracking to get slotted into the lineup at the last minute when you weren’t in any other lineups, it has to be beam away. What a position to be in. She looks calm, though. Bhs loso, totally solid. Side aerial, medium check, did a full arm swing. Switch to split 3/4, really lovely. Front 1/1, small hop. Wow, what a routine for her team in a pinch. 9.825, good for her

Vihrova (PSU): Double tuck, holds the stick. This routine really suits her, serious and dramatic. Switch ring switch full, good there. Front lay front full, lunged to the side somewhat. Double pike, great lunge! 9.925, earned.

Ortiz (RU): Bhs bhs loso, check on the landing. Split to double stag, great there. Gainer full off the side, true stick. 9.825

Oh no, the RU stick crown is stuck in Manifold’s hair. Oops.

Salcedo (PSU): Great through her leaps. Double front, just a bit short, two steps back. Switch side half to Shushunova, nice. Front lay front full front pike, great, really rises in the pike which is what you want to see in a combo pass! She does a loso in the choreo for her backward skill. 9.725

Joyner (RU): Bhs loso, rock solid. Switch to switch half, no deductions there, great oversplits. This is Joyner’s event, and she is showing off. RO 2/1, went too hard for the stick and hopped forward. 9.85, that would’ve been astronomical without the landing error.

Piedrahita (PSU): Double pike, great, just slid her front foot back a bit in the lunge. RO 3/2 front lay, gorgeous body positions in that pass. Clean leaps. True stick on her double tuck. Wow, the freshman has ARRIVED. 9.825, I would’ve been the 9.85 judge.

Zannella (RU): Leap to mount. Really pretty scale work. Split to ring, check there. Solid triple series. Hop to the side on her side aerial tucked 3/2 dismount. 9.825

Herring (PSU): Double Arabian, hops to the lunge, was a bit deep in her knees on the landing. RO 3/2 front lay, nice there. Switch side Popa, cheated that rotation a little by overcooking the switch. Double tuck, controlled lunge, little low in the chest. 9.875

FINAL: Penn State 196.550, Rutgers 195.150

An EXCELLENT number for Penn State, Sarah Shire Brown will be proud of her squad for this one, highlighted by Rushlow’s bar and Vihrova’s floor numbers. Rutgers can be happy to have ended on a high note on beam on a tougher day, and that a rough meet can still total a 195-plus.

VT: Leese 9.900
UB: Rushlow: 9.950
BB: Salcedo 9.875
FX: Vihrova 9.925

READ THIS NEXT: From Latvia to University Park, Elina Vihrova’s Road to Penn State Was Hard but Worth It

Live blog by Emily Minehart

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