High score sends seniors off in fashion
In the moments prior to a gymnastics meet at the Livingston Recreation Center, the team huddles up and repeatedly chants "R House." That chant is both an assertion of their home gym advantage but also an acknowledgement of how important the building is to the whole team.
For the senior class, the Senior Meet on March 13 served as both a time for recognition of their achievements but also a final opportunity to perform in the building they have called home for the duration of their college careers.
That night proved to be memorable as the Knights, led by strong performances from seniors, Laura Sevarino, Prishani Seebadri and Alyssa Lewandowski, recorded a score of 192.675, their highest since 2005. Head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton was pleased that her senior class could end their home careers on a high note.
"They were the ones who said they want to come here and turn the program around," Chollet-Norton said. "I'm just so proud of everything they have overcome and everything they have accomplished."
For all three seniors, the road to Senior Day was not an easy one.
Seebadri's history of injuries that kept her out for more than a year and a half more closely resembles that of a professional fighter than an athlete in a non-contact sport. Sevarino also suffered a freak injury last year that gave rise to doubt that full participation in her senior year was possible. Lewandowski, while not suffering serious injuries, originally attended Wisconsin Osh-Kosh for a year before being able to transfer to Rutgers, the school she always wanted to attend.
Seebadri arrived at Rutgers with high expectations as an impressive athlete that could excel in all around competition; however, a series of knee injuries left both her career and her lifelong comfort in doubt. After an extended stint in rehab that included several setbacks, Seebadri returned this season, albeit just as a bar worker.
"I was told I wouldn't be able to come back after my third knee surgery," Seebadri said. "I'm just so happy I was able to end my career on my terms."
When arriving at Rutgers, Lewandowski's expectations were not of greatness, she merely wanted to go to a school she truly enjoyed and participate in the sport she loves at a high level.
"I just wanted to come back to New Jersey and be able to compete in gymnastics for a team that would be competitive," Lewandowski said. "I love gymnastics and I'm so happy to have been able to compete in my home state."
All three recognized the potential of the Rutgers gymnastics program. While the team had suffered from a lull for several years, the last few seasons show the gymnastics program to be on the rise.
"We are definitely on the upswing," Sevarino said. "It's good to see the program going in the right direction and I'm proud that we [the seniors] were a part of it."
Beyond performance on the mats, the seniors have brought with them a character to the program that serves as an example for the underclassmen.
"I am so proud of this senior class for both their effort in the gym and their great attitude," Chollet-Norton said. "Obviously they have performed well, but they have also really great girls who have served the underclassmen well."
For all three, gymnastics is more than just a sport, it gives them a second family.
"I'm really going to miss all the other girls," Lewandowski said. "We are a really close team, maybe sometimes too close."
Despite their gymnastics and college careers winding down, all three are still enjoying competing and are not yet ready to look back and put their careers in perspective. For now they are focused on finishing their careers the best way they can.
"We are just looking forward to nationals," Seebadri said. "It's going to be an emotional time, but we have to keep competing."