Knights welcome new era with Levine at the helm
The Rutgers gymnastics team entered uncharted territory last season on the Banks.
Last year’s team broke the school record for victories in a season with a 19-8 record and notched its highest finish and score — fifth and 193.625, respectively — in the East Atlantic Gymnasts League Championships.
With the achievements came change. As the program she built reached new heights, 25-year head coach Crystal Chollet-Norton announced her retirement. Now in his first year, former assistant coach and now head coach Louis Levine plans to build upon last season’s successes.
“I have got some pretty big shoes to fill. Crystal turned this program into what it is,” Levine said. “We just have to keep working hard because there are still places we can improve. We are looking forward to a great season.”
Helping Levine settle into his role are a few familiar faces. Juniors Danielle D’Elia and Jenna Zito and sophomore Luisa Leal all return this year after their record-setting 2011 campaign. The three gymnasts earned berths to the NCAA Regionals, marking the first representation for the Scarlet Knights since 2007.
As an assistant coach, Levine had the opportunity to work closely with the Knights before. He now looks forward to being their leader.
“The girls have been working really hard to get ready for what is sure to be a great season this year,” Levine said. “I can tell we are going to return to what we had last year, just power gymnastics.”
Bolstering the lineup are four incoming freshmen who could compete for a spot in all four events. Anastasia Halbig, Emma Hoffman, Kayla Mercado and Sara Skammer are all-around performers more than able to continue the trend of rookie success at Rutgers, Levine said.
“All of our newcomers are all-around athletes capable of earning their spot,” he said. “They are really going to help add depth to the team, help bring us to a better place.”
The Knights face challenges off the bat with back-to-back conference opponents. They open their season at home Jan. 7 against EAGL opponent New Hampshire before hitting the road against West Virginia. New Hampshire finished second last year in the EAGL Championships.
For a team in the middle of a significant transition, Levine feels the early challenges are the measuring stick for the rest of the season.
“We always feel the biggest challenges for us are our conference opponents. Those first two meets will be some of the hardest,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing to start off the year like that. It gives us a chance to test out where we stand.”
As the Levine era approaches for the Knights, the first-year head coach emphasizes that challenges and last year’s record-setting season aside, he strives for improvement.
“All we want is to get better day by day,” Levine said. “We are just looking to build off of what we have already accomplished.”