Stanford, Calif. - Junior Casey Sandy (Brampton, Ont.) proved what Penn State head men's gymnastics coach Randy Jepson knew all along - that he was the nation's top collegiate gymnast. On Friday evening at the 2008 National Collegiate Championships, Sandy captured the NCAA all-around title with a total score of 91.350, outdueling Oklahoma's Jonathan Horton, the 2006 champion, and Stanford's David Sender and Sho Nakamori, both members of the U.S. Senior National Team.
"Casey Sandy has been the Rodney Dangerfield of NCAA gymnastics," said Jepson. "He has gotten no respect all year. His freshman year, he was a threat to win the all-around but had a severe wrist injury. Last year, just before the team championship, he turned his ankle and couldn't do the all-around. To see him, go through tonight, be healthy, and to prove to everybody that he is legit, is gratifying. Even after World Championships, when he placed high in the all-around for Canada, I think people were reluctant to give him respect that he deserves. They won't be anymore."
With the title, Sandy becomes Penn State's NCAA record 15th all-around champion, its first since Luis Vargas in 2005, and the first ever Nittany Lion to win both the Big Ten and NCAA all-around crowns in the same year. He finished third in the pommel horse, fifth (tie) in the vault, sixth in the floor exercise and still rings (ties), ninth (tie) in the parallel bars, and 12th (tie) in the high bar.
"I thought it was a good day today," said Sandy. "I was capable of being cleaner in my routines, but I am pretty happy how it ended up."
In the team finals, the Nittany Lions put up a valiant defense of its 2007 NCAA title but fell short of a repeat, placing fourth with a score of 357.650. Oklahoma captured the 2008 title, its fifth in the past seven years, totaling 363.200. Host Stanford placed second (362.750) while Illinois finished in third (359.750). California (fifth, 356.150) and Michigan (sixth, 354.250) rounded out the Super Six field.
"Not good enough," said Jepson in assessing his team's performance. "Not really sharp enough and clean enough. We had a much better performance at Big Tens and were more on target. We just never really got the ball rolling. We didn't really miss a lot; we just weren't sharp enough. And I think it's a good lesson, especially for our younger guys. It's not about just hitting routines, you have to be sharp at championships."
Following an opening rotation bye, Penn State started on the pommel horse and struggled to its second lowest team score of the season, a 56.250. Casey Sandy was strong, posting a 14.800, while senior Derek Helsby (Orlando, Fla.) helped the team with a 14.100 effort.
After setting a season team high yesterday in the still rings with a score of 61.950, Penn State did itself one better when it needed the most. Behind a personal season best score of 16.000 from senior Tommy Ramos (Guaynabo, P.R.), the Nittany Lions totaled a 62.000. Casey Sandy (15.500), Vladi Klurman (North Miami Beach, Fla.) (15.350), and Derek Helsby (15.150) also had strong showings.
Failing to maintain that momentum into the next rotation, the Nittany Lions faltered on vault. Casey Sandy gave a standout performance, earning a season high score of 16.100, and redshirt freshman Jason Chu (Los Angeles, Calif.) came through with a 15.850, but PSU's top two competitors in the event, Santiago Lopez (Cibola del Mar, Mex.) and Vladi Klurman failed to cleanly land their vaults.
In the next two rotations, Penn State scored near its average for the season on the parallel bars with a 58.600 but one of its lowest totals of the year on the high bar (56.600) ultimately proved costly. Casey Sandy led the Nittany Lions in both events, scoring a 14.900 in the parallel bars and a 14.650 in the high bar.
Penn State finished strong on the floor exercise, posting a 61.100. A pair of 15.400s from Casey Sandy and Santiago Lopez headlined the rotation for the Nittany Lions.