Home finale ends with high score for season
The question heading into every gymnastics meet over the past month was not whether the Rutgers gymnastics team would win, but what records it would break in the process. The Scarlet Knights' Senior Day meet Saturday was no exception.
During an intensely emotional competition that served as the last home meet for the senior class and head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton's career, the Knights put on yet another historic performance. The Knights scored a season-best total of 194.350 to earn first place in front of a school-record crowd of 1,231.
In addition to the attendance record, the Knights set the third-highest score in school history, besting the mark of 194.150 they set just a week earlier. The win also improved the team's record to 18-7 — the highest win total in school history.
Pride and emotion overwhelmed Chollet-Norton by the end of the meet, after her team delivered an exemplary performance and a post-meet ceremony honored her and the seniors.
"The girls believe that they can do it. Everyone is getting comfortable with their routines at the right time," Chollet-Norton said. "It's great for the seniors that they get to go out and do something memorable. It was a really emotional day and it was special seeing all the alumni there to support the team."
Beyond the emotional aspects of the meet, Rutgers needed to post a high score to boost its case for qualifying for regionals. By setting a new season-high, the Knights are able to count their second-highest score of 194.150, dropping a significantly lower score.
"I told the girls before the meet that we can't have a 192 this meet. We need to have a 194 or higher," Chollet-Norton said. "They really rose to the occasion and got the score we needed to get."
Senior Leigh Heinbaugh knew all that was on the line Saturday, but said the team approached the meet as normally as possible. With all that was at stake, Heinbaugh acknowledged that the performance they put on was even sweeter.
"We had our best score of the year," Heinbaugh said. "All the seniors did really well and we just had our best meet of the year at the perfect time. We just had a great time and we were so happy that we could do it for Chrystal."
There was a retirement ceremony for Chollet-Norton and a Senior Day presentation following the meet. While the scope of the performance itself was difficult to get past, Chollet-Norton and the seniors appreciated the honors bestowed upon them.
"I was so proud of all the seniors and happy to see them go out on a great meet and be honored for what they have meant to the program," Chollet-Norton said. "I really couldn't have asked for a better meet to end my career on."
While the story of the day was the results the team achieved, it was not the main focus of the ceremony in Chollet-Norton's honor.
"I've never had kids and they all joked that my cats are my kids, but it's really nice to know that I have made an impact and helped build their character and see that they are fine young women," Chollet-Norton said.
It was a testament to her reputation as a person and a coach that Athletic Director Tim Pernetti played an integral role in the post-meet festivities, personally acknowledging Chollet-Norton's contributions to Rutgers.
"Tim has been so great in supporting our program," Chollet-Norton said. "It was really nice of him to come here for the seniors and for my retirement."