Knights exact revenge on UNC, win home quad meet
In front of a raucous crowd at the Livingston Recreation Center, the Rutgers gymnastics team earned its first big upset of the year.
In a quad meet featuring North Carolina, a team that defeated the Scarlet Knights on Jan. 16, Rutgers recorded a team score of 192.050 to take first place.
The victory marked the first time Rutgers defeated UNC since 1976.
Despite coming off a loss against the Tar Heels recently, head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton was confident her team would be able to compete.
"We knew we didn't have a good start last meet," Chollet-Norton said. "We finished the meet strong, but we only had two good events. We just had to train beam harder and focus on floor a little and we knew we could win."
Newcomers Danielle D'Elia and Luisa Leal-Restrepo led the Knights as both managed to turn in strong performances in their first home meet.
D'Elia finished first in the three events she competed in, tying Leal-Restrepo on floor exercises with a 9.850. Leal-Restrepo finished second overall in all-around scoring with a 38.575.
The Knights relied on a strong finish in floor exercises to clinch the victory. Down 143.925-143.075 following three events, the floor exercise team needed to perform at a high level to win the meet.
Despite the late deficit, Chollet-Norton remained confident.
"Floor is a real strength of ours," Chollet-Norton said. "We do a lot of training on floor and we have finally got the depth we need on floor. We are ten deep on floor and the competition is really pushing all the girls to get better."
After a 9.650 performance from sophomore Nicole Romano to start floor exercise, the Knights built on their momentum.
The Knights managed to secure the top-three places and four of the top five in floor exercises. Senior Kiah Banfield scored a 9.825, which was good for a third-place finish behind Leal-Restrepo and D'Elia's first-place score of 9.850. Sophomore Jenna Zito finished fifth with a 9.800.
Beyond the influx of new talent, one of the differences between this year's team and last year's is the belief that victory is possible against any team.
Chollet-Norton often lowered her expectations last season for certain meets, not necessarily expecting victory. This season, however, every meet possesses the potential for victory.
"We are ready to surprise teams this year," Chollet-Norton said. "We believe we can beat any team we are going to face this season."
Chollet-Norton's confidence has begun to filter down to her athletes, instilling a new level of enthusiasm.
"This year we are really starting to believe we can go out there and beat anyone," Zito said. "Last year we weren't really sure how much talent we had. This year we are starting to buy in to what the coaches have been telling us."
The Knights will return to action Saturday in Morgantown, W. Va. for a tri-meet with West Virginia and Pittsburgh.
"[The win over UNC] was a great win, but we are a team that can score in the 194s if we perform the way we know we can," Chollet-Norton said.