Rematch with Mountaineers offers shot at change
Following its first-place finish in the familiar confines of the Livingston Recreation Center last Saturday, the Rutgers gymnastics team travels to Maryland this weekend for a quad meet.
The Scarlet Knights will see some familiar faces in the West Virginia Mountaineers, which Rutgers faced in only its second meet of the season. The last time the two squads met in January, the Mountaineers ousted Rutgers at West Virginia, 193.425-191.650.
But entering the weekend, head coach Louis Levine is adamant he is far more concerned with his own team than any they face at the meet.
“The one thing about gymnastics is you can’t really worry about who you are going against. You control your own destiny,” Levine said. “If we go in there and we do our job, I think the rest takes care of itself.”
In several ways, Rutgers is not the same team that crossed paths with the Mountaineers a month ago. For one, the Knights have competed without sophomore Luisa Leal since the last West Virginia matchup. Leal paced the Knights the first two meets of the season, taking the all-around title for two straight meets.
But since then, sophomore Alexis Gunzelman stepped into the role of the Knights’ go-to all-around performer. Gunzelman took first on the podium in the all-around each of the last three meets.
In her newfound role, Gunzelman noticed the rest of the team has progressed, as well.
Since the West Virginia matchup, the Knights have raised their overall score from meet to meet. They hit their highest mark at 192.500 in a quad meet at Pittsburgh. Most recently, the Knights took first place with their second-highest score of 192.375 at home against Brown and SUNY Cortland.
“I definitely think that we are getting better — you can see it when we compete,” Gunzelman said. “We just get ahead of ourselves. With confidence, we sort of lose it. I think we just need to finish the meet with confidence.”
No meet highlights the Knights’ tendency to falter toward the end as much as their last outing at home. Even though Rutgers came away with a first-place finish, the team agreed it only lived up to its potential in two of the four events.
“We hit bars and vault really strong [last Saturday], and then we got into the beam and floor and we kind of fell apart,” Gunzelman said.
Even if the Knights had not already fallen to West Virginia earlier in the year, they would still have the incentive of the possibility of a win within the EAGL Conference. A win against West Virginia or host team Maryland would give the Knights their first conference win of the year.
But first they must smooth out the inconsistencies that plagued their last meet.
“Our goal right now is to go into the meet and hit five out of six routines in each event,” Gunzelman said. “I think being able to do that is really going to help our scores, especially against West Virginia and Maryland.”
Levine sees a team that has improved skill-wise from the one that last faced West Virginia.
The team’s mindset will determine its fate, he said.
“It is just about putting in the repetitions and building confidence,” Levine said. “It is continuing to do routines that enable you to go up there knowing you can do it, and you’re not just hoping to get through it.”