Jan. 28, 2010
By Amy Farnum
If it weren't for a case of a misaddressed e-mail, Brandi Personett would have probably never landed at Penn State, and the Nittany Lions would not have one of the nation's best gymnasts on their roster.
During her search for collegiate gymnastics programs, Personett sent an e-mail to University of Michigan assistant coach Scott Sherman - at least she thought she did. But, the short note asking if Sherman wanted one of Personett's highlight videos was actually sent to Steve Shephard - the head coach at Penn State.
"Our e-mail addresses are pretty similar," said Shephard. "I immediately responded, 'I'm not Scott Sherman, but we'd love to have you come to Penn State.'"
Not wanting to admit she messed up, Personett sent Shephard a video, and the two began corresponding. He eventually asked her to come on an official visit, and she agreed.
"It was very last-minute," said Personett. "My parents went on all my other recruiting trips, but they didn't go on this one. It was so last-minute, they didn't think I would come here."
Personett ended up having a great time on her visit and decided Penn State was the place she wanted to go to school. And, Shephard got a great one.
In her first season, Personett was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. She then earned All-America honors on the beam as a sophomore, and took fourth-place on the floor exercise last year, and claimed Big Ten Gymnast of the Year honors.
"She's a very gifted young woman in terms of her ability in gymnastics," said Shephard. "I think she's done a tremendous job maximizing those abilities and reaching her potential as an athlete."
The senior from Katy, Texas, has picked up right where she left off last season, winning two all-around crowns in her first two meets. And, last week, she earned her first-ever 10.0 on the vault -- the first 10.0 by a Nittany Lion in the event since 2003.
"In practice, we've been talking about if you stick a landing, milk it - let the judges know," said Personett. "Stand there. Let them look at you for awhile. I didn't move for what felt like 20 seconds. I've stuck before and had never gotten a 10. I was halfway down the vault runway to high-five my teammates when they mobbed me. I turned around and saw the 10s up and freaked out. It was probably the most exciting moment of my gymnastics career."
"It was our first home meet and we started on vault, and our first athlete scored a 9.9, so we knew it was going to be a good day if everyone else stuck their vaults," said Shephard. "It generated an amazing amount of momentum and set Brandi up for the 10.0 because they did such a job on their vaults. Her vault was head and shoulders above the rest.
"She does a Yurchenko one-and-a-half (round-off-back handspring entry), which is really difficult. She can land it really well. She stuck it and the judges had no other choice than to give her a 10.0."
Despite her perfect performance on the vault, Personett's favorite event is the floor exercise.
"It is the event I feel most confident on," said Personett. "I know if the team is in trouble and I need to hit, I know that I can. I love to perform, too. I like smiling and flirting with the judges during the routine."
Shephard agrees that floor is Personett's best event.
"I think she's capable of winning a national championship on the floor exercise, and came close last year," said Shephard. "She was the only athlete in the meet that did a full-twisting double layout, and it was great. On her last pass, she had a small error on her landing, but at that level and competing for the national championship in the individual finals, dropped her out of first place."
This weekend, Personett and Penn State will face their toughest challenge of the season as the Nittany Lions host No. 1 Alabama and No. 23 Minnesota. Personett, who is currently ranked No. 1 on the vault with a 9.933 average, will face stiff competition from Alabama's Morgan Dennis, who ranks second with a 9.917 average. Personett also enters the meet as the nation's third-ranked gymnast on the floor exercise (9.900).
"I really look forward to competing against great teams," said Personett. "I would rather have a meet against the top teams, rather than teams we know we can beat. Not only to scores seem better when you compete against the best, but there is the opportunity to beat them and prove we deserve to compete with the best."
Although it is a big meet for the Nittany Lions, Shephard says his team will be focused on what they can do and not the competition.
"Our focus is competing with the same level of quality we practice with," said Shephard. "In practice, they do amazing things perfectly over and over. We have yet to be able to compete with that level of focus and consistency. Consistency is the fifth event in gymnastics. We want to hit 24 of 24 routines."
Penn State hosts Alabama and Minnesota on Saturday, Jan. 30. The meet will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network via tape delay on Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. ET.