Injuries don't stop RU seniors
Four years ago they were wide-eyed freshmen, but fast-forward to today and the quartet of seniors on the Rutgers gymnastics team have become important staples in the lineup and helped pave the way for a new wave of young gymnasts.
The Scarlet Knights honored Kristy Behr, Jessica Haddaway, Alison Hartwig and Latara Northcutt Saturday after the team's 190.350-190.075 loss to Cornell. It was the last time the four seniors would take the floor at the Livingston Recreation Center.
"I think that the sad part is that we have a lot of fun here at our house and that we are going to miss it," said Hartwig, who has been a steady contributor on the beam for the Knights the last two seasons.
All four can look back at the time when they were freshmen and see how much different things are today.
"I remember our first home meet our freshmen year and how much fun it was," Haddaway said. "To think how far we've come from then until now is amazing."
Part of the growth has been learning to overcome hardships, particularly for Behr and Haddaway, who each missed significant time early in their career.
"The first two years I was injured and didn't get to compete so this is like the best thing in the world for me," Behr said.
Haddaway has been plagued by a back problem this season, but has started to put together strong performances in her last two meets.
"There have been struggles," she said. "There are always struggles, but I think the fact that we all have come through struggles shows that we are good gymnasts and we have worked hard."
But all four have persevered through those struggles and that is something that head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton admires about her seniors.
"They are a great bunch of girls; they've been leaders in the gym," said Chollet-Norton, now in her 23rd year on the Banks. "When I needed Ali [Hartwig] to do an event she came up and did three. Kristy does hundreds of bar routines each day and doesn't stop working. Latara got hurt [this season], but she has come back into three events and Jessica, she just plugs along even with a back problem. All of them have had injuries of some sort but they are in the gym every day leading by example."
Having the knowledge that they are all fighting through the same aches and pains has also helped the girls build a relationship over the years that extends beyond the gym.
"It's been a fun one and an adventure," Behr said of the relationship she has with her fellow seniors. "We've been a small class and every year we've had somebody leave it, and we are the only year in a while to make it all the way through."
Northcutt attributed the quartet's bond to their strong personalities.
"We're very strong personalities," she said. "We have made it through all four years, so being close and working together really well is definitely a positive."
Part of being on a Chollet-Norton team is not only excelling in the gym but also in the classroom, and that is something that all four girls have been able to do. Each is set to graduate at the end of the semester.
"It can be hard [balancing gymnastics and school] depending on the classes," Northcutt said. "Sometimes a semester is easier and sometimes it's harder, but you learn to get through it."
And the ability of her seniors to get through it has impressed their head coach.
"That's great," Chollet-Norton said of the prospect of graduation for the seniors. "My girls always graduate on time. We have one of the highest GPAs in the school. We have 24 girls that we have to account for and we have 13 girls that are [East Atlantic Gymnastics League] all-academic and that is over half the team."
The season is not over yet, as RU travels to Towson Saturday before the EAGL Championships the next weekend, but when the Knights' four seniors take the floor they will remember their four years and how they came together.
"We are all going out this season having competed together as a senior class, which is nice," Hartwig said.