December 17, 2018 | ° F

Seniors' impact lost in success of impressive freshmen

Photo by Jeffrey Lazaro |

Senior Kiah Banfield ranks fourth on the Knights with an average score of 9.736 in the floor exercise, twice reaching a high of 9.850.

For the Rutgers gymnastics team, the 2011 season was a rousing success. The Scarlet Knights performed at a consistently higher level than they have in years, most recently earning the third-highest score in Rutgers history Saturday in Piscataway.

While some of the credit can go to the younger athletes that provided the depth necessary to compete at the highest level, the transition to a higher level of gymnastics began with the senior class.

The Rutgers gymnastics team holds its annual Senior Day meet on Saturday at the Livingston Recreation Center, serving as a time for the team's long-time head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton to look back on the accomplishment of her eight seniors.

Chollet-Norton recognizes that the team would not be in its current position without the seniors.

Photo: Jovelle Abbey Tamayo

Senior Leigh Heinbaugh recorded a season-high 9.575 on the beam in the Scarlet Knights' most recent meet. She also participated in the vault once, and will be one of eight seniors honored Saturday before their final home meet.

"They have always been a leadership class," she said. "It's a big class –– it's eight of them, and we even have a few walk-ons and they all stayed. Even though some of them are not in the event, they are still supportive. It is one of those things that we win as a team and lose as a team."

While the senior class produced several top performers, Chollet-Norton acknowledged that some of the athletes that do not compete in meets are leaders in their own right.

"[The seniors] are all in the gym working hard every day, whether they are going to see a meet or not. That is truly special," Chollet-Norton said.

One of the top performers on the team, senior Kiah Banfield began her career as a lesser-regarded athlete not quite sure if she would be able to compete at the college level. Her rise to her current position as a stalwart talent on the floor lineup exemplifies the spirit of the senior class.

"I am really proud of myself because I was injured most of my high school career, so I wasn't even sure if I was going to do college gymnastics," Banfield said. "When I got here I wasn't up to the level, so I worked hard to get to where I am today. I'm just glad to know that I reached the goal that I set for myself."

Like Banfield, fellow senior Leigh Heinbaugh acknowledges how far she came personally and how much the gymnastics program grew during her time at Rutgers.

"It feels like I've been part of a growing process," Heinbaugh said. "It's great to know that the team is going to keep getting better even after I'm gone."

Last week's meet was naturally a career highlight for the entire senior class. Following up a performance that saw the Knights post a historic score will be no easy feat, especially with the subsequent meet being Senior Day and the last home meet of Chollet-Norton's career.

"To be part of the third-highest score in Rutgers history is amazing," Heinbaugh said. "I just want to go out there and do the best I can. It's just me and the beam, so I'm not going to be the worried. We are just going to try to do the best we can for Chrystal."

Josh Glatt

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