Last time Penn gymnastics competed, senior Alex Hartke was dominant in her trademark event, scoring 9.925 on floor for the second-highest score in school history.

Credit: Carson Kahoe

Penn gymnastics is looking to impress on the road this weekend, visiting No. 28 Penn State’s gym to take on some of its toughest competition of the season thus far. 

The Quakers have some major momentum halfway through their season, setting a season-high team score in each of their five meets. And with the Ivy Classic right around the corner, the team is eager to keep buliding into peak condition, facing the Nittany Lions (2-4, 1-4 Big Ten) and Cornell on Saturday.

Earlier this season, the Red and Blue (3-6, 2-1 Ivy) sought out redemption when they faced off against the reigning Ivy champions, Cornell (8-4, 1-1). A year after Cornell barely edged Penn for the Ivy title, the Quakers repossessed their glory by squeezing out the win by a score of 192.675 to 192.400.

Looking forward to this weekend’s events, senior Alex Hartke, who obtained a career-high score of 9.925 points on her floor routine — second best in Penn history — at last week's meet, downplayed any thoughts of a rivalry ahead of the Quakers' third matchup with the Big Red this season.

“The focus is more on ourselves rather than focusing on beating Cornell again,” she said.

As a result of her top performance, which helped Penn tie an all-time school record on floor, Hartke became the recent recipient of the ECAC Specialist of the Week. And with that success, the senior plays a major vocal role in the gym, encouraging her teammates to focus on the task at hand this weekend.

“Our competition is based more about how we go in mentally rather than physically," she said. "You know the equipment doesn't change, but our mindset does.” 

In addition to Hartke, the Quaker gymnasts are looking to freshman Darcy Matsuda to rise to the occasion again this weekend in the face of fierce opposition. Matsuda has been one of Penn's strongest athletes on both beam and floor all season, setting a career-high in the latter event with a 9.875 last week.

“Penn State is the toughest competition,” said Matsuda, who, like Hartke, is not swayed by the rivalries the team faces. “Who we go against doesn't really make a difference. … The goal is to keep improving as a team.” 

“A lot of gymnastics is more mental than physical," Hartke added. "Going into every meet with a fresh mindset is something that’s really important.”

Most of that mindset comes from preparation in practice and the constant support from teammates. Hartke and Matsuda both agree that the strength of their team’s community runs deep.

“We’re basically just a whole family,” beamed Matsuda. “We all get along very well.”

Fresh off last week's historic effort, Hartke will look to impress again this upcoming weekend and help bring her team to victory. As one of six seniors seeking their first Ivy championship in three years, all hands will be on deck for the team to get into top form and break its title drought when the big meet comes.

“This is the last meet before Ivies, so this gives us a good chance to kind of take a step back and realize how far we’ve come," Hartke said.

Clearly, the Quakers are on a roll, and are looking to top their best overall score of 193.725 total points set last week. With a few wins under their belt, the Quakers are eager to go head-to-head against the Big Red and to cage the Nittany Lions.

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