Surprise finish ideal sendoff for senior class
When the Rutgers gymnastics team's season began in January, head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton was content to declare her team's goal of merely getting to USA Nationals. As the season went on, it became clear that her goal was less aggressive than the Scarlet Knights' skill level allowed for.
As the season came to a close this weekend, the Knights took a fourth-place finish at USA Nationals, a feat that exceeded early season expectations.
The Knights scored a 189.400 on Thursday to finish second in their preliminary session to advance to the finals.
While their 189.400 score was good enough to advance to finals, the Knights suffered from several mistakes that needed to be quickly remedied before finals. While suffering from a poor draw of events, the Knights still recognized that the mistakes needed to be fixed.
"We struggled on the prelim night," Chollet-Norton said. "We fell on beam. We didn't have our best night."
Coming into finals, the Knights once again suffered from a poor draw, being forced to once again start with beam. However, Chollet-Norton's team demonstrated the same strong attitude and resiliency that it exhibited all season.
"We got beam again, but I told them that we practiced and we were ready to go," Chollet-Norton said. "They say it was a random draw but the host team got the best draw and Bridgeport got the second best. When I told [the team] the random draw, they were ready to show that they can do better."
The Knights were able to recover on beam on Friday night and turned in an impressive score of 190.700 to secure fourth place. While they were not able to edge out Cornell for third, both the team and coaching staff were pleased with how the season ended.
"We all feel great because we are back to a level we want to be at," Chollet-Norton said. "The team really peaked at the right moment and that is something any coaching staff would want."
During the proceedings, several Knights earned personal accolades. Along with earning All-American status, senior Laura Sevarino received the Senior Athlete of the Year award.
"One athlete that has been an all-arounder for four years is recognized every year," Chollet-Norton said. "To participate in four events for an entire career is a true accomplishment. I have never had a girl win this in my entire career."
Irrepressibly happy senior Alyssa Lewandowski also finished off her career by earning All-American honors with her performance in vault. Lewandowski finished tied for ninth in individuals with a score of 9.575.
While not attaining All-American status, senior Prishani Seebadri also had a strong performance to end the weekend, only missing All-American honors by hitting her foot. Despite not being able to compete in individual competition, Chollet-Norton considered Seebadri's last tournament a success.
"Prishani had a great bar routine and she would have been in bar finals had she not hit her foot," Chollet-Norton said.
Junior Erica Gerlach also earned All-American honors and finished third overall in individual event finals. Her 9.625 in bars allowed her to tie for third, leading the Knights in individual performance finishes.
"Erica hit only three times this year, but she hit when it counted for the team and then did it in individuals," Chollet-Norton said.
Also earning All-American honors was junior Leigh Heinbaugh for her team-leading 9.675 in balance beam on Thursday. Heinbugh finished 10th in individual competition.
"Leigh is a sleeper. She is an excellent beam worker," Chollet-Norton said. "When she hits, she is a 9.7 beam worker. When you are a specialist, sometimes people overlook you."
While the season ended on a high note for all three seniors, it was a bittersweet moment as each one competed for their final time.
"I am so proud of all the seniors," Chollet-Norton said. "The whole team was crying when [the seniors] competed for the last time."
Despite losing a strong senior class, Chollet-Norton believes that with the experience her underclassmen gained this year, coupled with a strong recruiting class, her team will only continue to improve in the future.
"This was a big year for the program," Chollet-Norton said. "Next year we are going to the next level."